On CBC Radio: Speaking Out When Autistic Children Are Murdered

I was interviewed last month by the CBC's George Baker for the Daybreak North radio show, about the murder of autistic teen Robert Robinson at the hands of his mother Angie. Lara Lohne graciously transcribed the interview, and I am posting it here for those who wish to read rather than listen. I have edited the transcript for clarity and grace, e.g., to remove my "erm"s and overuse of "right?," etc.

My blog post about Robert, which precipitated the interview, is Please Stop Being "Understanding" When Autistic Kids Are Murdered


George Baker (GB): Prince Rupert RCMP say that earlier this month, 40-year-old Angie Robinson killed her autistic 16-year-old son, then she killed herself. Family members say Robinson and her son didn't get enough support. But Shannon Rosa says that's no excuse for a mother to kill her child. Rosa is the mother of a son with autism, and an advocate for families with autistic children. In a blog post titled "Please Stop Being Understanding When Austic Kids are Murdered," she writes:

"Once again the implication is that Robert's mother Angie, who could tell people what she was experiencing and could have walked away, was the victim; and that Robert, who relied wholly on Angie to communicate and advocate for him and who had no escape options, was ... his mother's trigger."

“When autistic children are killed by their parents are they treated as victims or triggers?” Earlier this months in Prince Rupert, 40 year old Angie Robinson killed her autistic16 year old son, Robert. Then she killed herself.

Family and advocates say a lack of support services are to blame for the situation. Shannon Rosa's son also has autism. And following the deaths of Angie and Robert she wrote a blog post titled, 'Please Stop Being Understanding When Autistic Kids Are Murdered.' She's a writer and advocate in the San Francisco Bay area and she joins us now. Good morning, Shannon.

Shannon Rosa (SR): Good morning.

GB: As the mother of a son with autism, what went through your head when you first learned about this story?

SR: Mostly I just cried -- I have to tell you -- because [parents murdering their autistic children is] not an isolated incident and it happens too often, and too often the message is “Oh that poor mother” instead of getting information about the victim, sympathizing with the victim and trying to get out more understanding about autism so we can prevent this from happening again. [Robert] looks exactly like my son, it was uncanny, really. So ... I just cried.

GB: Physical resemblance, of course, is there. How much, though, can you relate to the struggles that Angie Robinson was apparently going through?

SR: My son really is quite a lot like Robert. He's also the most amazing kid, we love him so much. We need to get that message out too: We don't hear enough stories about happy families.

My son often has a hard time, because it's often hard to be autistic. So many times with autistic people who can't speak, they aren't given the opportunity to advocate for themselves. They can't communicate if they're bored, they can be sick, they can have sensory sensitivities: they can hear everything in the room and it sounds like gongs going off all around them. They can have visual disturbances and all these things. 

Could you imagine being in situations like that and being a very tall, very strong person? If you read stories of autistic people who can now communicate but who when they were younger were like Robert, or they were like my son, Leo, they will tell you how maddening it is and how frustrating it is. 

I think if we're going to talk about services, we need to talk about services before we get to a crisis, we need to talk about getting services so that we can understand our autistic children and adults and get them what they need to be able to function and live a happy life.

GB: Talk about what life is like with your son. What are some of the challenges you face, every day?

SR: Ok, well, I don't like to get into it too much because I like to respect his privacy.

But he's mostly non-speaking, in fact right now to expand his quality of life and ability to communicate, we are investigating a device that actually allows him to communicate by touching on symbols, it's like an iPad and it produces spoken speech. Because a lot of the time, autistic people will be intelligent but they will have motor planning issues that make it so they can't produce speech -- but they can use devices like this. So he's learning to use that, which is great.

He goes to a school for autistic children and they actually have an adult program as well. He needs 1:1 support because really, he's very autistic and sometimes he lacks impulse control. So he wouldn't necessarily understand that he shouldn't open up car door on a freeway. But that's not because he's misbehaving, although some cases it might be. It might be that the reaction he gets from me when I see him open the door is so great that he can't resist doing it.

Again this goes back to understanding autism. I think there's a real problem with people thinking autistic kids and people are bad, when they are misunderstood. And back to these murders: you see people who are very wealthy or who have all the services in the world who still murder their kids because they don't understand autism, or they want their kids to be "cured," or not everybody has the ability to be the parent for a child who has intense needs.

I think in the case of somebody like Angie and Robert, where everybody talks about how much support that the family had -- in that case, when we have autism families we need to be very vigilant about [watching for] signs of stress. The message that we need to get out to them is that if you think you're reaching the edge, what you can do is you can call 911 on yourself. I don't know, I apologize, if it's the same code in Canada as it is in the States. But it's better for your child to be with the authorities and alive than it is for your child to be dead. That's the message that people need to hear. Over and Over again. 

Some [other autism parents] say I'm not terribly sympathetic to them but the thing is -- I am a parent to a child with intense needs. I get it. He's big, he's as big as me now and he's only going to get bigger. But understanding that parenting can be difficult and getting in the mind space where someone would kill their kid, those are two separate things. So I think if parents are having a really hard time, that's when you need to reach out -- not when you're at the point where you feel like you're going to murder your child. Because, again, parents who are mentally ill, most of them don't kill their children, parents who have autistic children, most of them don't kill their children. So it's not because of services, you know what I'm saying? If that makes sense.

GB:  Yeah. The portrait painted of Angie by the people who knew her,  is one of a mother who loved her son but was unable to find help and ultimately driven to take her own life so I ask, is there not room for sympathy here?

SR: That is absolutely what I'm saying. But the sympathy needs to be extended before you get to the crisis. The sympathy needs to be with people who are alive, instead of after the fact saying, “Oh my God...” you know, “she should have done something differently” ...

I'm sorry, I'm getting a little flustered just because this is very emotional for me.

We need to get the message out to parents like Angie that it's OK if you're at the edge. It's OK to surrender completely in that you can give your child up to the authorities. You can walk away. It will ruin your life, yes, but at least your child will still be alive. You can do that.

I'm part of an organization called Thinking Person's Guide to Autism and all we do, all day long (and in our book) is advocate to get parents services and understanding, and work with autistic people and professionals as well. This is all I do, all day long. So there's no chance of lacking empathy or sympathy for other parents. But I cannot extend it when somebody crosses the line. Although I can say that if they didn't understand that calling services on themselves and abandoning their child is an option, then that's due to lack of understanding. That's the message we need to get out, instead of saying that autism causes murder.

GB: There's been a lot of criticism on the BC government and the rest of society, quite frankly, here in Prince Rupert about how much service there is for people dealing with children, coping and living and raising children with autism. Is there not room also for this to become a political story, a societal story in which people are forced to react?

SR: I can't do that. I can't get behind that because then you are saying, essentially, that if autism families don't get services then they're going to kill their kids. You know what I'm saying? If you use that as your lead. I think we need to work harder and longer to get services to the autistic people and their families who need it because it's what they deserve as human beings. It needs to happen, it's just what we do as a society that cares about all the people in it. And I know that BC's had a really hard time with cut backs recently, but we need to look at who the most vulnerable people in our society are, who can't necessarily advocate for themselves, and just because they aren't given the opportunity to advocate for themselves doesn't mean they don't deserve to be taken care of.

GB: Shannon Rosa we'll have to leave it there. Thank you so much for talking to us today about this very difficult topic.

SR: Thank you for having me, I really appreciate it.

GB: Take care, Good bye.

SR: OK, good bye.

GB: That is Shannon Rosa, a writer and advocate for families dealing with autism. She's also the mother of an autistic son. You can find her blog at www.squidalicious.com. We, of course, would love to hear your take on this story. Email us at: daybreaknorth@cbc.ca, Give us a call 1-866-340-1932.
We are also on Facebook, and on Twitter @DaybreakNorth.

*Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, essentially Canada's NPR or BBC. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Amazing stuff! Please keep up the good info! www.voice4autism.org


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