Did that headline make you sick? Do you know what will churn your stomach even more? Google "Number of autistic children killed by their parents". Look at the faces, the names and the numbers just in the last year alone. It's sickening. And equally sickening is the aftermath; the excuses for the parent and the sympathy. Not sympathy for the murdered child, mind you, but sympathy for the overstressed parent who murdered the child. And, sadly, when a disabled child is killed even the ensuing trial becomes more about the parent's struggle raising an autistic child rather than about justice for the victim.
Every time one of these tragedies is reported I try to understand the logic behind all of the "This is awful, but it is really hard" comments. And I wonder if maybe someone who has felt desperate and out of control and helpless as a parent to an autistic child is sympathizing with the feelings that could lead up to such an evil act, but not excusing the act itself. I get it, but that's such a dangerous path and slippery slope. When we do that we lose sight of the victim's worth and the victim's struggles. When we relate to a murderer's possible feelings because we are in a similar life situation and start to rationalize we are indeed defending their actions, not just their feelings of desperation.
Even with our rhetoric in talking about day to day struggles raising a child with autism it's so important to be conscientious of how it is framed. Anyone who has followed this blog for any amount of time knows I do not shy away from talking about the hard stuff. But should the focus be how hard it is for me or how hard it is for him? When we only focus on how autism negatively affects us, the parents, we are perpetuating the stereotypes and stigma that autistic children are a burden. When autistic children are seen as a burden they are seen as disposable.
Imagine if a similar argument was made regarding a typical child who was killed by his parent. "I know it was wrong and I'm not making excuses, but that kid was really hard to raise and was always getting into trouble. He had a terrible attitude. Maybe the mom just snapped. Who are we to judge?"
That sounds ridiculous, right? Because it is. There is no amount of parental desperation that justifies murder. Ever.
The other aspect I see often brought up in light of these tragedies is the lack of support and the failures of a broken system. Those are valid concerns and ones that probably should be addressed when we see an epidemic of a certain community of children and disabled adults being perpetually targeted by their caregivers. Maybe some of these children would be saved with more resources in place. It's likely that with better support and access to care we would see a drop in such cases. That is a fight we can all keep fighting everyday, but when we make murderers our example for the community's need we are transferring the blame from them on to the system.
The system is often failing families and it can be very hard, but parents must do everything in our power to protect our children. They are worth it. Their lives are worth living. They deserve to live and those taken did not deserve to die. They deserve justice. And should be remembered and mourned; not just as murdered autistic children, but simply as murdered children. These parents are murderers, not victims. Their dead children are the victims.
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