9.13.2014

Amplify This: "Don't Murder Your Autistic Kids"

When we hear that a mother has tried to murder her own child, most people howl in agreement that the mother deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Most would be angry if that mother successfully plea bargained her attempted murder charge down to child abuse. Most people would not "understand" mothers abusing or murdering their kids.

Autistic, Not Less Valuable
[image description: Leo in foreground,
Golden Gate Bridge & camera-wielding
tourists in background]
Most people would feel that way, unless they learn that the child in question is autistic or otherwise disabled. And then, horrifyingly, people excuse the parent's murder attempt, and start blaming the victim: the child.

This is happening again -- right now -- because of Kelli Stapleton's recent plea bargain for poisoning her autistic teen daughter Issy. News articles and blog posts are using images of Kelli hugging the daughter she tried to kill. Stories are insisting on sympathizing with Kelli, talking about how hard Kelli's life must have been, ignoring her ex-husband's Matt's testimony that Kelly bought an electric shocking collar meant for dogs to use on Issy, "'spiced up data' making physical incidents with Issy look worse than they were, and 'stated that children with autism have to be taken care of, such as taking the child to the train tracks or off a cliff and suggesting a parent should kill his or her child.'" And few accounts portray Issy as a victim -- or even as human -- at all.

I'm begging you to help change those conversations. As I wrote at BlogHer, I want us to be more careful and compassionate when we discuss cases like Issy's. I want people to think about how they got into a headspace where they think it's not just acceptable but defensible to empathize with a self-admitted child poisoner:
"If you identify with a murderer rather than a murder victim or if you become upset when people criticize parents who hurt or kill their disabled kids, then maybe it's time to think about how you found yourself in that dangerous mind space and start making changes to help you, your child, and your family."
And I want us to put victims like Issy first. I want parents to understand that while of course they need and deserve help if their children require intense support, they need to get that help from people who believe in and respect their kids, not from people who do see their children's lives as less worthy than non-disabled children's lives.

Above all, and right now, reporters and writers need to stop sympathizing with murderers like Kelli Stapleton. Parents need to stop saying that they understand why Kelli chose to poison her daughter, because unless they've actually attempted to murder their own child, then, no, they don't.  They also need to stop declaring that a "lack of services" explains these murders, because that's not a universal factor in these crimes. And most parents who lack services do not murder their kids (nor do most parents who struggle with mental illness, which is usually the next justification for unjustifiable acts by parents against their disabed children). As parent Matt Carey writes:
We need better supports. But we can not condone the murder of one of our own [...]. If we as parents can do this, out of some ‘mercy’ argument we are a very small step away from state sponsored murder.
And the media, especially mass-market media like People Magazine (on sale now, but I'm not about to link) and Dr. Phil (interview with Kelli set to run in two days), need to stop sensationalizing stories like Kelli's at the expense of -- and without bothering to consider the personhood of -- autistic people like Issy and my son Leo, and FFS need to stop writing headlines like "County Jail Better Than the Prison of Autism."

If you want to take action, please share my BlogHer article on changing the conversation about murders of children with disabilities. That piece is more compassion- and solutions- oriented than my sorrowful raging among friends, here on my online porch. Link here:
http://www.blogher.com/changing-conversations-when-parents-murder-disabled-children
You can also RT my tweet to People Magazine and Dr. Phil:
 Why @peoplemag's & @DrPhil's sympathetic coverage of Kelli Stapleton is so dangerous: http://www.blogher.com/changing-conversations-when-parents-murder-disabled-children … #JusticeForIssy #autism
Direct link to the Tweet here:
https://twitter.com/shannonrosa/status/510795561255964672
And if you find yourself in a community that empathizes with or defends Kelli Stapleton, you need to get the fuck out of there, and do it yesterday. You need to find people who will support you through hell and high water, but you endanger yourself and your child if you are emotionally dependent on people who refuse to distinguish between the pre-crime mindset of "I don't know how I'm going to get through this, help me not be a danger to my child" and the post-crime mindset of "I understand why Kelli tried to kill Issy."

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Updated to add: Many people in the autistic and parents of autistic kids communities have asked people to focus even further on Issy as the victim and crux of this story, by not mentioning Kelli entirely in their writings and social media shares. I'd already written these two pieces, but you can be damn sure I'll be following suit from now on, using the hashtag #JusticeForIssy. As Matt Carey writes today at Left Brain/Right Brain:
One can just bet that many comments will take the form, “no one should kill her child…..but…..”
There is no “but” in this. No one should commit murder. No parent should kill her child. Full stop. Period. “But” does not apply
Variants of this are “don’t judge her” and “until you walk in her shoes.”
“Judge” means to form an opinion
For those who write that: the mother tried to kill her daughter. I will form an opinion about this–this is wrong. I don’t have to “walk in her shoes” to say that. Why won’t you form an opinion? Why does her daughter’s disability have anything to do with forming this opinion?
Just in case you are wondering: I did purposely write this without mentioning the mother’s name. The mother is not the story. When autistics have been murdered in the past there have been news stories that never mention the name of the victim.
I recommend sharing Matt's post as well: http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2014/09/13/when-a-child-is-killed-by-a-parent-the-word-but-does-not-apply/

And I have to once again thank the autistic author of the blog Real Social Skills for helping me write the more thoughtful BlogHer essay, in asking people to think about their attitudes rather than just telling them their attitudes are wrong. 

3 comments:

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are one of the (scarily few) parents of kids on the spectrum who do NOT insist that lack of services or the phases of the moon somehow justify the murder/adopted murder of a kid on the spectrum (or any kid,for that matter).

    As you noted in an earlier post, every single parent (regardless of income) has another option: Sign the kid over to CPS.

    Is it a good option? No, but to paraphrase Winston Churchill, it is WAY LESS BAD than the murder/attempted murder "alternative".

    In a case like the Stapletons, where both parents had been law-abiding citizens prior to Sept 2013, there is EVERY chance they'd be able to retrieve their girl from foster care after [completing parenting classes or whatnot].

    The often-dismissed "call 911" option, in the specific case of the Stapletons, would likely have averted this tragedy too -- Kelli calling 911 to report that she was scared she'd hurt herself/her kid, would have gotten herself Baker Act-ed (72 hr involuntary psych hold, known as getting 5150-ed in CA). Matt Stapleton could've cared for their kids while Kelli was in the hospital.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've followed Dr. Phil's response re this situation and find his response to it (so far) appalling.

    The mother couldn't have loved her children or her husband to have made this attempt (though I personally do not believe she would go through with it).

    She called her husband to stop it...is one report.

    Thus, what she did serves, her freedom from all her children and her husband.

    She wasn't intending to die....in my view...if she had been, she would not have called her husband....

    She is disgusting and in her efforts to free herself she is providing support for the idea troubled children / disabled children can be murdered.

    ReplyDelete

Respectful disagreement encouraged.

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