Unfortunately, the autism community is not immune to crime, either. Indeed, autistics are far more likely to be victimized than to be a perpetrator themselves. And it seems like we hear all too often of a parent who kills - or attempts to kill - their autistic child and possibly themselves. I tend to take a pretty tough stand on these sorts of crimes. To me, murder is murder. There is always - always - a way out. There is always another option.
But what happens when it is one of your own?
I was saddened to put my son on the school bus this morning and see that a fellow autism blogger - one who has fought, advocated, educated, and done all she can - was going to be charged with the attempted murder of her autistic teenager.
(And out of respect for her whole family as they deal with this tragedy, I will not post links to her blog or the news reports. I'm sure it will be widespread amongst those who would vilify her in due time.)
One of us. One of the good ones. One of the strong ones. One who has put up more of a fight against the injustices of the world than I.
How could this happen to her family?
This is where it gets messy. I remember reading her last blog post - it was from only a few days ago - in which she talked about the struggles they were having with the school system and getting the placement she wanted for her child. She sounded desperate, but you know what? Don't we all. We all have reached that breaking point before, but such an infinitesimal fraction of us ever cross it. Based on that post, would I in a million years have predicted what was coming? Not a chance.
And I want to make it very clear - I do not condone what she did. Not for one second. As I said, there are ways of dealing with a situation that do not involve such desperate acts. You can hand your child over to relatives. You can call the police on yourself. You can tell a doctor, a friend, or anyone that you're having these thoughts. Anything - anything at all - to keep your child safe. There is no excuse for attempting to take the life of your own child.
But on the other hand, we cannot deny that many families with autistic children are under intense stress. I live in a state with no autism insurance mandate, so there is a great financial strain on many families as they fight for services. Services provided by public entities - like BCW and the school system - are stretched thin by the constant influx of families who must turn to them because there are no other options. There are not enough spots on the waiver lists, not enough money to go around, and not nearly enough schools. There are not enough of the good teachers and - so often - the quality of special education services rests solely in your zip code.
Parents are stretched thin. We are constantly juggling finances, schedules, and the rest of our family's needs while waging unending battles with schools and insurance companies.
And it wears us down. Even I - who tends to remain very even-keeled most of the time - remarked to Brian the other day about how it feels like the fight to get Jack what he needs will never end. It seems that there is always someone to fight and there is always something trying to undermine your efforts when you think you've found that perfect mix of what helps your child learn and grow. There's always a teacher who doesn't get it. There's always an insurance company looking to cut your child off. There's always a school system looking to cut services.
And the fight gets tiresome, but never more so as when you lose. You know that the losses mean more than just the money that the school system or insurance company sees; it means a real difference in your child's progress. I know that when Medicaid cut off Jack's feeding therapy, we began a feeding regression that has continued to this day. All of that hard work - gone. It has been devastating.
Yet, I haven't crossed that breaking point. Or, if I have, the breaking point means something slightly different to me than to her. However, how do we know? That breaking point means something different to everyone else, and so it is that we must fight as a community for the supports that families need, for we are naive to think that autism is about just the individual. If we are truly to protect our kids, we must address service and educational gaps, provide respite opportunities, and offer mental health services to the entire family caring for a child with special needs. It is only through these supports that we will see people stepping back from that breaking point.
And still, there will be some for whom it will still be too much. This is where you - yes, you my friend - need to take responsibility. If you are ever in that situation in which the desperation has become too much, please be brave and reach out for help. Let someone - anyone - know that you're having these thoughts. It can be a friend, a family member, hell, it can be a blogger like myself, but let someone know so they can help you. If you have no one, call the police. Or a doctor. Let them know what you are thinking. This is the life of your child we're handling here, and the bravest thing to do may be to turn yourself - or your child - over to authorities so that your child will not be the victim.
Because if it could happen to her, it can happen to anyone.
My heart is breaking this morning. It's breaking for her family, for her as she suffers the consequences of her actions, but mostly for her daughter, who was caught in the middle of an epic struggle of which she truly had no blame. It has jaded my world just a bit, because I can no longer say, "Not us. We are too strong to let that happen amongst our own."
Even the strongest fall.