Woman hospitalizes autistic daughter in apparent murder/suicide attempt

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Catchfire Catchfire's picture
Woman hospitalizes autistic daughter in apparent murder/suicide attempt

Trigger warning

A teenager recently dismissed from an intensive autism treatment program in Kalamazoo County remains unconscious in a Grand Rapids hospital Thursday morning, suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning authorities say was part of a failed murder/suicide attempt by her mother.

The 45-year-old Benzie County mother is hospitalized, too, and has been arrested and a warrant authorized charging her with attempted murder; she is under protective custody, according to a news release by the Michigan State Police in Cadillac.

Friends have identified the mother as Kelli Stapleton, who has written of her experiences with her 14-year-old daughter, Issy, in a blog, "The Status Woe." 

The family was featured in a Traverse City Record-Eagle story in March that told of Issy's acute autism, episodes of violence, and the family's struggle to fund a full eight-month treatment program in Kalamazoo County.

 

"I know it’s happened to someone else."

I have to admit that I’m suffering from a severe case of battle fatigue.  I’m so happy that Issy has successfully completed treatment.  It was a miracle making that happen.  But I never once had any peace or rest.  There was a constant (and very real threat) that funding would be pulled.  It was not as exhausting as getting my ass kicked (literally) every day, but there was no time to lick my wounds while she was in treatment either.

Managing her transition back into “normal” life has been complicated.   The behavior plan is reducing her target behaviors.   The behavior plan is our miracle.  So how do we best ensure the integrity of the behavior plan as we transition home?

 

It is wrong to murder your autistic child

I shared Issy’s story above rather than her mother’s story. The news media shares Issy’s mother’s story as if the story is about Issy’s mother and not about Issy. That is because Issy is autistic. For some reason, in our warped culture, being autistic somehow means you don’t count – you are not considered human being enough to count even after someone tries to murder you! In fact, you will likely not even be part of the story after the first few sentences.

The story becomes one of excuses for the mother or care giver who attempts to or actually succeeds in murdering the autistic. At our core, as a society, we hold the belief that a disabled person is better off dead.

We don’t actually talk about this belief, but it is what is underneath when so many can read the story and agree with and sympathize with the murderer. In no other murder scenario do we do this – sympathize with the murder and blame lack of services. Disabled people are construed as a burden to their families and are even thought to be the fault of their own murders! Sympathy starts pouring in for the poor murderer who had no choice and who, in fact, did what any one else would be driven to do under the same circumstances is what we are told by reporters.

 

Strong like Saints. Right?

We are told we are strong.

That God chose us.

That special kids go to special parents.

We are commended, complimented, compared to saints.

When society isn’t judging us in Target stores, it’s perching us upon dangerously high pedestals against our will, pedestals that prove wobbly on even the best of days.

And we do our best to live up to the unfair expectations: The plastered smiles, the upbeat status updates, the continuous photo streams showing home-cooked meals, impromptu playdates, victorious trips to the dentist from carefully constructed angles so as not to breathe life into the disorganization and chaos that often plagues our lives. We really do give it the ‘ol college try.

The insurance denials, the school district dramas, the medical maladies that infuse and define the majority of our days; they are a burden we often silently bear because to admit to the exhaustion, the hopelessness, the rage and resentment would be to admit that we are failing our children and there is no greater tragedy for a parent than that.

Oh, how we strive to appear intact, even when the threads that hold us together slowly unravel while we do our best to disguise the fraying ends.

 

Sineed

I was just reading about this case today over at Respectful Insolence. Orac notes the disturbing support for murderous parents over at Age of Autism:

Quote:
This case has gained national attention, and the sorts of arguments being made are almost exactly the same as those being made by the Age of Autism contingent about the Alex Spourdalakis case. Just look at the Facebook page Support and Prayers For Kelli and Issy and the Stapleton Family, which is prefaced with the statement, “Please pray and support Kelli, Issy and their Family. Sometimes we are given more than we can handle. Walk a mile in our shoes and save your judgment. We are here for the Stapleton Family no matter what.”

 

Unionist

Quote:
... the family's struggle to fund a full eight-month treatment program in Kalamazoo County.

The United States of America.

 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

I found a lot of the opinions that pointed out that yet again an autistic child was being framed as a burden rather than a whole human being to be quite humbling, because I did find myself sympathizing a great deal with the mother -- and not enough with the surviving Issy.

That said, as someone remarked on another site, rather than importaning a discourse of blame, or a measure against the mother's character, it might be better to use this case as a measure of the distress she endured, and to what extent that distress overrode her character.

But I think the trauma embedded in this story is just too much for me to grapple with coherently.

Goggles Pissano

The Robert Latimar case was in Canada, and he had financial stresses here too looking after his handicapped daughter, Tracey.  I believe that Canadians are just as guilty as Americans in putting all the stress and pressure of raising a child with disabilities squarely on the shoulders of the parents.

I wonder how Sweden and Norway fare?  Do they have better programs for the children and better support mechanisms for the parents of children with disabilities?

How much have the Canadian governments cut back on funding for programs over the years? 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Some good news

On Friday, after three days in the ICU, she was still unresponsive and had confirmed brain damage. After not seeing any changes in her condition, it was decided Friday evening to remove Isabelle from the ventilator. She responded by breathing on her own for the rest of the evening. The following morning, she awoke from her four day "coma-like" state asking questions, making requests, and quite incredibly, showing signs of the amazing young woman she is. For three days, she was hooked up to machines and showed very little progress.

Fast forward 24 hours and we are out of the critical unit, completely independent, and beginning discussions about the extent of her brain damage. She has smiled and is now walking and talking. It is nothing short of a miracle. While she still has several obstacles to overcome, we are extremely hopeful with this unbelievable turn of events. 

The Stapleton Family would like to thank all of you who have come together to support, encourage, and pray for our little girl. We will forever be grateful for your efforts. We also thank the many medical professionals we will continue to work with in the hopes of a realistic recovery. We have never been so optimistic. 

Goggles Pissano

..

Unionist

Goggles Pissano wrote:

The Robert Latimar case was in Canada, and he had financial stresses here too looking after his handicapped daughter, Tracey.  I believe that Canadians are just as guilty as Americans in putting all the stress and pressure of raising a child with disabilities squarely on the shoulders of the parents.

Exactly.

When we frame this as an individual human story, we run headlong into the conflicting emotions that CF ably described.

This is a story of social neglect - of giving parents too much responsibility without the power to fulfill it. The U.S. is a particularly heartless and brutal society, but Canada is guilty too.

 

 

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

There is nowhere near the amount of support (and not just money, although there is that, too) needed by families struggling to care for a severely disabled child.  Canada falls down in this regard, the US is worse.

I feel terrible for Issy - how confused and terrified she must have been! - but I also feel terrible for her mother.  That's not to condone what she did by any means, but it was a terrible situation for the entire family to be in.  I think it's possible to feel for everyone involved.

 

Goggles Pissano

I think what CF is wrestling with is that "yes" we do feel for the mother when the child is disabled. However, no matter how much the mother is suffering if her children are not disabled, we still perceive what she did as cold blooded murder and we feel nothing but anger, disgust, and revenge for the mother. This implies that we place less value on children who are handicapped and that we see their murders as somehow less a murder than if the child were not disabled.

ETA: I was going to say this earlier but decided not to.  I deleted that post in #6.

lagatta

That is nonsense. As it was with Latimer. Both parents were at the end of their rope. It is not a matter of "not valuing" lives. Severey disabled children (and frail elders) are indeed a burden, though it is obviously not their fault. The problem is lack of social support.

autoworker autoworker's picture

lagatta wrote:

That is nonsense. As it was with Latimer. Both parents were at the end of their rope. It is not a matter of "not valuing" lives. Severey disabled children (and frail elders) are indeed a burden, though it is obviously not their fault. The problem is lack of social support.

I agree.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

lagatta, I agree that the parents were at the end of her rope and I agree with Unionist that this is a social problem and that we, collectively, failed the entire family catastrophically.

But hearing some of the perspectives from people living with autism and other families with autistic children made me re-analyze the discourse around these kinds of cases -- I think it's worth considerng the way we talk about these cases, and the dominant narrative (at least one that considers this a social problem and not the law-and-order blame the mother type) is one that frames the autistic child as a burden and not as a fully formed human being. Our attention is focused on the mother and how she couldn't cope with the child -- and not the child if she was at the end of her rope, how she must have responded to being a "problem" her mother had to fix, how her mother's own struggles with mental illness affected her own ability to cope with her living situation.

The rhetoric seems to flow in one direction. I think that's unfair to the child and others living with autism.

autoworker autoworker's picture

There's a distinction between being a burden on a parent with few resources, and to a society with the means to relieve it. Instead, we have a public debate on what is a good or a bad mother.

KenS

I agree that given the dominant narrative about the poor parents, and the implication that has about how the children are perceived... we need to re-focus on the child.

But doing that in a way that erases the sense that they are a burden is delusional. And delusional will always undermine what you were trying to do in shifting the narrative.

There is nothing like 24/7 care of a loved one. Thats bad enough, and they do disturbing things on top of it.

Even with vastly better support, it will still be a burden that is very hard on all but a very limited number of 'chosen' helpers.

The shameful lack of social support makes it an intolerable burden on individuals. We cannot remove it being a burden, and should not pretend that we can.

KenS

Being a burden should not objectify anyone AS a burden... that people around, or society objectifies a person as primarily a Burden.

But words are cheap, and I've thought a lot about this burden business.

I look around me at what my family and others do. And I look at previous generations. I'm 62 and my parents generation didnt do this kind of stuff. Disabled kids went into institutions. You visited them, they might come home occassionaly. That was taken for granted. It wasnt much different for elderly parents. It was rare keeping parents that needed a great deal of care. I know of countless cases now.

Even without such 'handy' institutions available to my grandparents generation [say 70 years ago], round the clock care for indefinite years was not anywhere near as common as it is now. [In a lot of cases, MUCH earlier on, those people just died.]

So there is no question that expectations have got a lot higher in the last few decades. And so they should, flat incomes for most of us do not change the fact that we ARE a wealhier society. The problem is that the expectations 'ingested' by individuals have shot up a great deal, while we have only snails pace increases in collectively sharing the burden.

Goggles Pissano

autoworker wrote:
There's a distinction between being a burden on a parent with few resources, and to a society with the means to relieve it. Instead, we have a public debate on what is a good or a bad mother.

Not even close.

Goggles Pissano

lagatta wrote:

That is nonsense...

No it is not.

When the Robert Latimer case first came out, I was very sympathetic towards the Latimers and all the suffering that they went through.  Many people felt the same way, and there was a national outpouring of emotion in support of the entire family.  There was all kinds of talk about the need for more support services for families of disabled children and more funding for social programs.

Then, some children with cystic fibrosis held a news conference.  They said that we are hurting them by showing such strong compassion towards the Latimer's.  They informed us that normally, when parents murder their children for whatever reason, the public feels anger at the taking of another human life...in fact, there's even more anger because children are helpless and are dependent on their parents for their care. There is an added vulnerability factor with children, and therefore, more community anger at the parent who took the child's life.  Children with cystic fibrosis are just as dependent on their parents for their total care. In fact, they are more dependent on other's to look after their every need.  Your mentally and physically disabled children are the most vulnerable people in society, but when a parent takes their life or attempts to take their life, we don't feel the same level of anger.  We feel compassion and concern for the parent or parents who tried to remove the life of the child, and this dichotomy sends a very strong message to handicapped children that we value them and their right to life differently...we perceive that the removal of a handicapped child's life is somehow less a murder and less a crime than the murder of a child that is not handicapped. This issue was central to the Robert Latimer case.  It is NOT nonsense.

AND...no one is making this a blame the mother issue. Don't even go there. The reality is, if Izzy was a healthy child, most people would not be showing any outpouring of emotion in support of the mother.  Aside from war, when do we show so much empathy and concern for someone who takes another person's life? And, do you honestly think that handicapped people don't notice these different reactions? And do you not think that it hurts them tremendously? The more you associate them as a burden to society, the more you dehumanize them, and the easier it is to justify their death.

And CF, NO ONE as far as I could see was trying to make this a law and order issue. The Robert Latimer case pointed out how we perceive the death of a handicapped child as being less a murder than if the child were not disabled.  I was using the Robert Latimer case merely as a poignant example of how we treat the murder of handicapped children by stressed out parents differently than we do other children by stressed out parents.

 

 

Unionist

Catchfire wrote:

I think it's worth considerng the way we talk about these cases, and the dominant narrative (at least one that considers this a social problem and not the law-and-order blame the mother type) is one that frames the autistic child as a burden and not as a fully formed human being. Our attention is focused on the mother and how she couldn't cope with the child -- and not the child if she was at the end of her rope, how she must have responded to being a "problem" her mother had to fix, how her mother's own struggles with mental illness affected her own ability to cope with her living situation.

The rhetoric seems to flow in one direction. I think that's unfair to the child and others living with autism.

I don't think so (the part I bolded).

In fact, once you depart from the frame of "social problem", you end up with individual problems - and individual blame.

Whether a child is autistic, or physically disabled, or has learning issues, or addiction issues, or bullies or suffers bullying, or [add what you like] - a "burden" is created, to a greater or lesser extent, when the child requires special care or assistance or education. Society needs to discuss and determine how this "burden" will be shared - among parents, the health care system, educators, and other services. These are decisions and tasks that cannot and must not be left to parents alone - not just because parents can't handle them, but because the child is in all cases a "fully formed human being" and a full member of society with inherent rights.

It's a social problem.

kropotkin1951

lagatta wrote:

That is nonsense. As it was with Latimer. Both parents were at the end of their rope.

I think what Goggles was trying to say is that if the mother was working two jobs and her three young kids were too rambunctious for the two bedroom apartment that she could afford she might very well be at the end of her rope.  However even if she was at the end of her rope there would be little sympathy if she tried to euthanize her kids.

KenS I agree that in the past we had institutions were children with disabilities where warehoused and many suffered abuse. The abusive culture that existed in residential schools was also the same in institutions for people with developmental disabilities. That is why since the 1970's parent driven advocacy groups have demanded that their children not be sent off to prison for being born disabled.  I remember when my oldest son was just about two years old and we were trying to understand who he was we had an assessment done at a institution outside of Victoria and they said yes indeed he is "retarded" but we can't take him into care until he is three.  We got away from that evil place as quick as we could. We can't go back to that model.

Goggles Pissano

Yes, that is what I was saying.  Thank you.

shartal@rogers.com

Someone in my family is severely autistic. She is 15 and lives with her parents. If she did not live with her parents she would need to live somewhere with constant supervision. She is unable to take care of herself, is sometimes explosive but also easily exploitable.

autoworker autoworker's picture

shartal@rogers.com wrote:
Someone in my family is severely autistic. She is 15 and lives with her parents. If she did not live with her parents she would need to live somewhere with constant supervision. She is unable to take care of herself, is sometimes explosive but also easily exploitable.

What kind of support are her parents getting to help them provide for her needs, as well as their own?

shartal@rogers.com

14 hours per week

autoworker autoworker's picture

shartal@rogers.com wrote:
14 hours per week

That hardly seems adequate.

shartal@rogers.com

It isn't. That is why we worry for her future. She needs 24 hour support.

autoworker autoworker's picture

shartal@rogers.com wrote:
It isn't. That is why we worry for her future. She needs 24 hour support.

Have they contacted organizations that offer support to families in their situation? In Ontario, the Ministry of Child and Youth Services would be a good place to start, I think.

shartal@rogers.com

Yes, many times

Caissa

That many.