The Hope for Illumination: Issy Deserves Better

Yesterday morning, I read news reports about Issy and was gut-punched. I "talked" with friends in the community as we struggled to get a handle on this, to understand how it could all go so horribly wrong.

How someone we virtually knew could do something so premeditated, so horrific. I don't think we still get it. The news reports last night were worse--Issy's mom arrested, although still in the hospital. Issy still unconscious two days after her mother tried to kill her.

Her mother tried to kill her.

The autism community has divided into those who say we shouldn't judge Issy's mom, even calling for Issy's mom to NOT face any charges, and to those who place the focus on Issy, the one whose mother tried to kill her.

I have to stress that. Her mother tried to kill her. Her mother.

Nobody should get a walk on that. There were other choices. There are always other choices. 

Yes, we need to do more as a society to provide supports for individuals and their families. We also need to destigmatize developmental delays. We need to make it okay for parents to admit when they are ill-equipped and in need of education, support, and reinforcement.

However, we also need to hold people accountable for their actions. That's what the justice system is for. Some argue that Issy's mom snapped, that Issy's issues were so large that it's understandable what Issy's mom did.

If Issy had been a typical fourteen year old and Issy's mom had done this, the outrage from society at large would have been overwhelmingly on the side of Issy. Because Issy is autistic, people are out there arguing Issy's mom's actions are understandable.

No, they aren't. They shouldn't be. I argue that they are all the more heinous because Issy had autism, because Issy was so vulnerable and needed allies and parents who would defend and protect her against the world.

Issy's mom did that, fought for her. And then she decided that Issy and her being dead was the answer. I get being tired of fighting the world. But murder isn't the answer to that. Is never the answer to that.

If we can't get parents in the autism community to get that at a rock-bottom level, how can we ever expect society at large to accept autistic people as their equals, with equal rights and equal protections?

If we don't make this change, then we will always be in shadow, with only the hope for illumination.


farmwifetwo said...

Ahhhh... yes... the "no parent would ever become depressed or get PTSD or their child would never harm them" spiel.

What the parents of children without the major behavioural issues want is to ignore this stuff happens. They don't want to be in the "system" any more than they have to be.

Don't blame them, I don't want to either. I love how people say "but there are adequate supports"... Yes, tell that to an online friend who just got dx'd with PTSD or another woman I heard about that was told that her kid that's leaving bruises on her can't be put into a group home for at least another 2yrs....

Then there's the online community that for the 8yrs I've been in it attacks parents when they finally admit the realities of the meltdowns that can occur in their homes.

Supports.... sorry... that's hysterical.

Jo Ashline said...

Well said. I think many of us are reeling because on some level we "knew" Kelli and Issy and it's so much more personal then, isn't it?

I agree. Murder? Never. Never ever never. I always say that if someone wants to commit suicide (and no, I don't believe that's the answer either) they have that choice. But to take someone with you? That's not your decision to make. Issy didn't have a choice. Alex didn't have a choice. I agree. The focus needs to be on Issy and making sure we continue to work endlessly to spread the message that our children - regardless of their diagnosis or level of functioning - deserve LIFE. Always.

kathleen said...

what Jo said. what you said. sigh..

melbo said...

I agree with you Kim. In totality.

Sharon Morris said...

If we care about autistic people like Issy then we must also hold concern for those that raise them. The mother is just as important here as the child, as it was the mother left with the overwhelming responsibility for day to day care of this precious girl. I don't think we can separate the two. If you are dependent on others for your care and wellbeing then the mental state of those persons providing it is paramount to the quality of care provided.
Does that make sense?

K Wombles said...


I don't think anyone could dispute the support and concern that has been shown to Kelli over the last seven months or so, nor since she began blogging. I think it's abundantly clear that the well-being of Kelli mattered to those of us who supported her, raised money and gave money for Issy's treatment and shared their story.

It's one thing to care equally about caregiver and cared-for, to consider both's well-being as equally important. It's another to suggest that after the caregiver tries to kill the cared-for that they are deserving of equal concern.

In my post yesterday and my post today nowhere do I suggest that concern shouldn't be had for Kelli.

But, equal concern after she's attempted to murder her child? Equal concern?

Equal concern for an attempted murderer as for her victim because she was the caregiver of an autistic teenager, a child who remains three days later still unconscious in critical care? No. Resoundingly, no. And my heart aches to write that, to feel that. To try and wrap my head and heart around that...but there are some acts so heinous that, no. The victimizer doesn't get equal time as the victim.

By all accounts Matt has been a dedicated and devoted father. By all accounts, including Kelli's post Tuesday before she went out and tried to kill her daughter and herself, she also had several willing and ready volunteers as well as insurance approved staffing at home.

As I've written repeatedly, we need to do better at supporting families. That is unquestionable.

But the buck stops at our own door for own behavior. If they hadn't been found, her attempt would have been a success.

Too many people, way too many people, are rallying around the mother first, literally defending and justifying her actions. All you have to do is go to her page, the facebook support page, and the ABC news story to read people supporting the mother first and foremost.

If you care about autistic people, then that ought to strike a person as unconscionable that the defense is for the mother and not the child.

A child who is significantly heavier than her mother...yet her mother has made a full recovery while the child remains unconscious.

I hurt for Kelli. I mourn for her. She made a decision that can never be walked back from. And she's got to figure out how to live with that. But my concern for her now can never be equal to my concern for the child she tried to kill.

And because my autistic children need to know unequivocally how much they matter, how sacrosanct my relationship with them is, how precious they are to me, how inviolable their right to life and safety is, they need to know that I cannot condone nor sympathize with a mother who tried to kill her autistic child.

Sharon Morris said...

Ive read the media and various posts too, I don't see people prioritising Kelli. I see people trying to make sense of how this happened. I also see everyone praying and hoping Issy makes a full recovery.
Fact is, and the law recognises this, we are not held wholly accountable if it is found we were not in our right mind when we made a decision to commit an illegal act. I dont believe, I cant believe, that Kelli made the decision she did in sound mind. I understand your point about focussing our concern on Issy, but I also think its reasonable to consider how this tragedy came to occur, which requires focus on her mother.
Maybe Im not explaining myself very well. Im pretty choked up over this thing. Ive been in that dark place.

K Wombles said...

I understand being in a dark place. I have a feeling that if we polled the parent group we'd find a large percentage has been in a very dark place.

I'm not saying we shouldn't try to figure out how to keep parents from getting there. I think we were actively trying to help Kelli get out of that dark place.

I agree we should try to understand the mindset of people who move from despair to action.

I wouldn't argue that we shouldn't be praying for her, hurting for her. I think those of us who felt she was a friend or at least an ally, someone we knew of, are conflicted. I feel as if a weight is sitting on my chest. This has absorbed my attention, and I felt for this family, including Kelli, all week, and it's been a visceral, physical experience.

But there are people out there who are calling for her not to be prosecuted. Who are defending her actions. Who believe that Issy's aggression towards Kelli makes Kelli's decision acceptable. The Huffington Post article's comments, hundreds of them, make me ill.

Dixie Redmond said...

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, Kim.

I...just don't get it when people won't believe that a parent would do something like this in sound mind. People of sound mind do horrible things to others, including their own children, including their own disabled and autistic children, sometimes even in the real belief that they're doing the right thing--every. single. day. Of course I think we should try to understand how these things happen, what kind of mindsets lead parents to do these things...but it is *pretending* that mental illness or somehow not being of sound mind is the only possible reason. Values and worldviews and deep-seated attitudes contribute to actions, too, and people of sound mind commit abuse and murder against the more vulnerable literally all the time. It is deeply unfair, and dangerous, to decide that only the mentally ill or un-sound of mind commit terrible wrongs.

melbo said...

A person does not have to be "not in their right mind" to commit suicide, filicide or any other type of domestic homicide.

It is not mental illness that makes somebody do something like this. Any person who can take another's life and think that they are doing them a favour is not mentally ill. They have thought it through, they have rationalised it out. They may have depression or some other comorbid condition but that is not what caused them to do it.

It is an insult to the victims of domestic homicide when this excuse is used as a defence for murder or in this case, attempted murder.

I do not know this woman personally as others here have. But I do not believe for one second that this person had a mental illness to the extent that she did not know that attempting to murder her own child was a wrongful act.

K Wombles said...

Thank you, Chavisory--you raise valid points that I don't think I've seen many people talk about--we see it everyday--people being cruel to others all the time. Not everybody, but so many--do we think the trolls who wander the internet to see who they can destroy are mentally ill? Or the teachers who have been in the news lately for being abusive to their special needs students? Or the coaches who scream and yell and hit? Or that coach who sexually abused so many young boys?

No, we reserve mental illness for parents who kill their disabled children or try to. And we do it because we are terrified to consider the possibility that anybody could do such a thing, maybe even us.

Once we devalue somebody and consider them lesser than us, we can do unspeakable things and consider those acts to be just and reasonable.

So the most powerful act we can do as a community is to continue the fight to make society see all people as equal and deserving of respect.

No one is lesser. No one is greater. Caring for others and avoiding harm to them should be a priority.

K Wombles said...

Yes, Melbo. Yes. I find it incredibly comforting that you and Chavisory addressed the same thing even though you could not have known she'd written that.

We see this when someone we know does something unspeakable--look at Sandusky and how those who know him were so quick to defend him and vilify his victims.

We want to see people in terms of good and evil. If we know a person and we care for them, like them, love them, we are going to think they are good and if they do something horrible, we will have a hard time changing how we think about them, and we'll start justifying their actions or insisting they didn't do it. We don't want to see them as evil.

People aren't good or evil. Those constructs aren't helpful except to serve as a balm for our feelings.

People are people. We can be incredibly kind or incredibly cruel and we can do both at the same time.

Kelli's actions were premeditated--she had to procure the grills and charcoal, she had to decide that's how she was going to do it. She had to decide to drive to a secluded area. She had to decide to light those charcoal briquettes inside the van and then get in the van with Issy and sit there while smoke filled the van, while carbon monoxide filled the van, while she lost consciousness. She made a plan and she executed that plan.

Now, no one's mentioned this but how did she get Issy to sit in that van throughout all those events?

She decided she was done and that Issy was done. The news has picked up on that she said back in February that she didn't think Issy was permanently broken.

You have to wonder if she decided this past week if that was no longer the case.

Broken. How does that change how you treat someone you've decided is permanently broken?

If you stew on that, keep that swirling in your mind?

Those who are staunchly defending Kelli will think I'm vilifying her, but I'm not. Their defense that "you don't know what it's like to live with autism" is bullshit and so incredibly offensive to autistic people and their families. Of course they can see how she could do it. When autism is something that is happening to you, a bad thing, a thing that is ruining your life, getting rid of autism is the only logical response.

I wonder how reading hundred of people's reactions to this story is changing our own reactions to it, how polarizing it is, how much it is hardening our responses?

Anyone putting the victimizer above the victim, Issy, is, I argue, at the very least, morally wrong.

Anonymous said...

Kim, I haven't voiced it to very many people, but I've also been wondering incessantly how, if Issy were so violent and readily able to overpower her mother...how did she get her to sit in the van while she poisoned her?

I also visited the Team Issy facebook page, where, one of the things that unexpectedly chilled me was where Kelli says, after a fight with a teacher who apparently then decided to remove Issy from the school-based program she was supposed to be in this year, "I've ruined Issy's life forever."

And then she decided to take it away from her.

She did not really believe that Issy has a unilateral, absolute, RIGHT to her own life. Even if it wasn't going to be the life that Kelli wanted for her. Even if Kelli thinks she screwed it up. That's an attitude, not a mental illness, that is not all that uncommon at all, that influences actions towards others on a daily basis.

Sharon Morris said...

Having worked in the prison system for years I am well aware many people of clinical sound mind commit offences. I also know those people almost always have a pattern of those behaviours over a long period of time. This is not the case in the Kelly Stapleton situation, and this is what I base my assumption of her mental state on.
Chronic stress does create psycholgical changes, and unresolved this can lead to mental 'breakdown'. Dismissing this idea does no one any favours.

melbo said...

Sharon, she may have been under stress and it broke down her coping mechanisms.

But I stand by my original comment which is that mental breakdown did not cause her to methodically plot to take the lives of herself and her child.

The pattern of behaviours of which you speak bring me to the great unspoken (and I knew I would get here eventually). I think we need to consider that this person is not the person people thought they knew.

I have no doubt their lives were challenging to put it mildly. But so are those of many other people and they don't try to kill their kids.