Blame Game

More than a year ago, after yet another horrifying story about a parent killing her autistic child, I wrote a post on how scientific research shows that filicide is almost always accompanied by mental illness.

Parents kill, not a lot of them, but when they do, it makes national headlines. Friedman and Resnick note that "the US has the highest rates of child homicide (8.0/100,000 for infants, 2.5/100,000 for preschool-age children, and 1.5/100,000 for school-age children), [but] the problem of child homicide transcends national boundaries (6). These rates of child murder are probably underestimates, due to inaccurate coroner rulings and some bodies never being discovered (4,7,8)." They continue, asserting that most maternal filicides involve some type of mental health issue. 

In Colorado, the woman who confessed to smothering her six month old because she believed him to be autistic was found to be mentally ill and the prosecuting attorney chose not to pursue a trial. Instead, she will be evaluated and likely committed to a psychiatric institution. Both the prosecution and the defense will argue to the judge that this should be the course of action. Although she will not face prison time, it is unlikely this woman will be on the streets.

It's tempting when these horrifying stories about parents killing their children come out to play the blame game. Indeed, it's something we often can't resist. It's Age of Autism's fault because they present autism as so awful. It's Autism Speaks' fault because of that stupid sentence saying autism is more prevalent than  three dreaded diseases. It's everybody who has ever complained about autism. It's everybody's fault but the woman who chose to kill her child. If only there wasn't negative things written about parenting a child with autism that woman wouldn't have done that. She was mentally ill. She chose, whether she was in her right mind or not, to take her child's life. That is not the fault of anyone on the internet, although it is comforting to think so.

What we should do as a society is to work harder to recognize and treat postpartum depression, to provide adequate assistance and education to new parents, to provide respite for parents dealing with disabled children, to make sure that families don't fall through the cracks.

As parents, we love our children, we take pride in their accomplishments, and we celebrate them in all their wonder. We also worry for them, fear for their future, and work to make the world a safer place for them. That means making the world a safer place for ALL children, making sure that no parents are without safety nets, that seeking treatment for mental health issues is not seen as personal failure but heroic and brave.


Attila the Mom said...

Really love this post. I'm not going to talk about my moments of despair, but they're there. You're so spot on!

sharon Morris said...

I am so glad you wrote this KIm. It's disturbed me that this has been seen as an autism issue, when it appears clear to me it is about Post Natal Depression.

farmwifetwo said...

Yesterday a woman shot herself and her 2 kids b/c they wouldn't give her foodstamps. I can't remember which State it was in.

Had nothing to do with autism... everything to do with being overwhelmed.

It happens everywhere unfortunately, for a thousand different reasons. Most having little to nothing to do with autism.

Anonymous said...

No, it's not the *fault* of Autism Speaks or Age of Autism or whoever else...I tend to think that we're a society too fixated on finding where the fault lies rather than asking "why?" But I also think it's wrong to ignore how such fearmongering pushes people. It's irresponsible to dismiss the problem because the perpetrators in these cases are usually mentally ill--that doesn't make the fearmongering not a problem to be addressed in light of these outcomes. In this case, it would seem that the ways that our media culture presents and talks about autism provided an easy incarnation for her irrational terrors.

Kim Wombles said...

Chavisory, I'm not suggesting we not point out when organizations or individuals engage in inflammatory, fearmongering rhetoric.

We have no idea what prompted her fears. However it seems far more likely that her work with autistic patients would have played a greater role in focusing her obsession.

People have a need to place blame. If we can find a reason, our fears are assuaged and we feel a measure of control.

In this specific case, far too many people are going off half-cocked. Usually, it's been the AoAers who've overreacted. This time, though, it's not.

Anonymous said...

But, from the responses I've read (Squidalicious, TPGA and Rachel's comments there), I'm not seeing a rush to "blame" AofA and Autism Speaks in this case, but rather an observation of how pervasive the alarmism over autism is in our culture...which it's pretty hard to talk about without pointing out the ways in which organizations like Autism Speaks contribute to that miasma of fear.

I'm not "blaming" Autism Speaks or any other organization, or ultimately anyone but the mother who did this. But yes, I think that the ways that such organizations talk about autism certainly contribute to a culture of fear in which something like this is more likely to happen.

Is Autism Speaks to "blame?" No. But did the particular manifestation of this woman's irrational terrors come out of nowhere? No. Those are not mutually exclusive things.

sharon Morris said...

Kim, once again what strikes me is the lack of focus on why. Why would a mother do such a thing? As you say in your post above, murder of children is rare. Studies have found some gender differences. Men often murder as a form of revenge and women as an act of desperation and of course that is often tied to mental illness.
I agree with you, we need to be talking about practical ways to create more support for parents, particularly those caring for autistic children.