* A father in the Bronx repeatedly stabbed his 12-year-old son, and after killing him called police and calmly stated, "I've terminated the life of my autistic child."
His name was Ulysses Stable. He was homeschooled. His mother and father were separated or divorced; his unemployed father had sole custody. Jose Stable had ten previous arrests on record before the murder, including one for assault and possession of a weapon. Upon arrest, he told the police that his friends had encouraged him to kill his son. There's little to no other information publically available about him, his likes and dislikes, his relationships with others, or anything else meaningful about his life.
* In McLean, Va., a former assistant secretary of commerce in the Bush administration shot his 12-year-old autistic son to death.
His name was William Lash IV. He liked playing on swingsets and watching the Washington Nationals play baseball. He had just completed his sixth grade year at Haycock Elementary a shortly before his death. His father killed him in a murder-suicide after a "violent argument" with Will's mother, which culminated in her fleeing the house.
*Parents of a 19-year-old autistic youth set fire to their home in Albany, Ore., locked their son inside and left him to burn to death.
His name was Christopher DeGroot. He liked drawing and 'was into cameras'. He enjoyed watching the trains that ran below the apartments where he and his family lived. Neighbors in the apartment complex could hear him banging desperately on the walls as the fire blazed, trying to escape. He managed to smash open the first pane of a double-pane window, leaving traces of blood, hair, and skin. He wasn't immediately killed in the fire but was found by firefighters and airlifted to a local hospital with burns covering 80 percent of his body. He died there four days later.
* A Tucson mother and her friend tied up and burned an autistic 5-year-old, then gave him an overdose of sleeping pills.
His name was Brandon Williams. He liked swimming and going to the playground at the park. He loved to watch the Disney Channel and his favorite cartoon was Lilo and Stitch. His parents were divorced and his mother had primary custody of their children after an incident with one of Brandon's brothers, but his mother lost custody of her other sons about a year before his death. CPS removed them from the household and put them in foster care, while leaving Brandon with her. He had been abused for months: tied up by his wrists and ankles, beaten with wire hangers, his feet immersed in scalding water. The only difference between the night of his death and the tortures he had undergone dozens of times before was an overdose of medications and a blunt force injury that fractured his skull.
*A pathologist in Pekin, Ill., suffocated her 3-year-old daughter by placing a trash bag over her head. In court, asked whether she realized she was murdering her child, she answered, "No." Asked whom she thought she was killing, she answered, "Autism."
Her name was Katie McCarron. She loved Teletubbies and the hokey pokey and playing with her dolls. Her favorite color was pink and she enjoyed having her grandmother dress her in pretty outfits and fuss over her. Katie liked music and flowers and grass and visiting the zoo. She attended the Mariposa School for Children With Autism and was adored by her teachers. She knew all the animals on her flashcards and was the only child in her non-autistic playgroup who could identify an octagon. Her favorite words were "I love you".
Her mother was not her primary caregiver; she had lived with her father and grandparents for the 20 months preceding her death. She had been living with her mother again for only two weeks before she killed her. Karen McCarron took Katie and her two-year-old sister on a drive to a different house and then suffocated her. There were marks on the inside of the bag from Katie's fingernails where she had struggled to get out. She then drove both girls back home and placed Katie in her bed, waiting a few hours before calling 911 and telling them her daughter had stopped breathing. Her father has since filed for divorce, citing 'extreme mental cruelty'. Her grandfather, in response to the media coverage of the murder, has chastised reporters for trying to rationalize Katie's death as a result of lack of services or blame her or her autism while portraying Karen sympathetically.
"I am positively revolted when I read quotes that would imply any degree of understanding or hint at condoning the taking of my granddaughter's life," says Michael McCarron, 62, of Indianapolis. " ... I'm dealing with a very straight-forward murder case.
"This was not about autism. This was not about a lack of support."
These were real people, real children with real lives snuffed short by the people who they should have been able to trust more than anyone else in the world. They deserved better than to die the horrible ways they did. They deserve better to have their deaths exploited like this, their murders condoned because some people feel that children like them are supposedly just too stressful for any ordinary parent to deal with. These justifications aren't unique to autism. From Down syndrome to cerebral palsy to paraplegia to blindness, this sort of argument crops up in all kinds of cases where a child with a disability is abused or killed by their parents.
Raising a child with autism or any other disability can be stressful, yes- but so is raising any child if your income is below the poverty line, or if you're in the middle of a messy divorce, or are trapped in an abusive relationship. It's stressful raising a child if you've just become unemployed, or had a death in the family, or have post-partum depression. Would you extend the same sympathy to parents who kill in other stressful situations?
Where is the sympathy for Jacob, here? Where is the sympathy for Katie and Ulysses and Brandon? Where is the sympathy for all the autistic children still alive being metaphorically held hostage by their parents, who point to cases like these with the implication that if they don't receive services, their kids could be the next to die?
Stop blaming the victims when you read that more 20% of children with autism are abused and think of the torment being inflicted on one autistic kid out of every five. Stop treating some lives as more valuable than others, some infanticides more acceptable than others. Stop putting yourselves in the shoes of the parents for a moment and imagine the situations from the eyes of the children as they died at the hands of their mothers or fathers.
Autism didn't lock the doors and set the fire. Lack of services didn't load the gun and pull the trigger. Parents at the end of their ropes for one reason or another may be suffering under a tremendous burden of stress and despair, but they always, always could have chosen not to kill.
This is not so much the "terrible toll of autism" as the terrible toll of the messages of fear and despair surrounding it, of the idea that autism is so unbearable to have or live with that even death is a better option, of media coverage like this that use hyperbolic soundbites like "maddening disorder" and "devastating derangement", articles that blame the children rather than the people who murdered them. Thousands upon thousands of parents with autistic children don't kill their kids. They seek respite or talk to their therapists or visit support groups or muddle through or just never contemplate murder in the first place. For parents teetering on the edge of committing violence, the message that violence is an understandable and natural response to their situation is the last thing they need. Give them counseling, give them information, give them the hope that others have been where they are and that things can get better.... just don't give them any additional encouragement to go through with it.