Trigger warning – content discusses murder of children
Recent tragic events in Cairns where eight innocent children were murdered by their mother (allegedly), got me to thinking about another set of cases where parents murdered or tried to murder their beautiful, innocent children. Over the past few years there have been a number of highly-publicised cases of mothers murdering their Autistic children. Unlike the case in Cairns, when Autistic kids were tragically killed, the media and other commentators sympathised with the mother. ‘Autism is hard’, they said ‘A tragedy…’ This is not acceptable. To me, murder is murder and blaming the victim – or their Autism – is appalling.
Just imagine if a parent killed a child with severe asthma because looking after them was ‘too difficult,’ or a child with type 1 diabetes. There would be an outcry. So why do we as Autistic people rate as less than human? Why is killing one of us apparently an understandable – if tragic – response from a parent? I suspect that there are a good number of reasons for this. Obviously, as with any crime there is an element of the personal responsibility or agency of the perpetrator. It is a very small percentage of Autism parents who murder their children. There is also a significant influence from social attitudes around disability and Autism more specfically. Apparently Autism is ‘a tragedy’. Anti-vax types who believe (erroneously) that vaccines cause Autism would prefer to risk a dead child than an Autistic one. When I tell people I have Autism they often look at me sadly and often ask me unhelpful things like ‘do you live at home with your parents?’ There is a general lack of respect for the positives that Autism brings. We – and especially when we are children – are seen as some kind of alien, an ‘idiot savant’ perhaps, not quite human. All of these things combine to make us an easier target for violence.
There is also often a lack of support and other services for Autistic people and their families. I’m obviously not saying that a lack of services justifies murder – or course it doesn’t – but it may exacerbate other issues around lack of value and personhood for Autistic children.
The saddest thing to me in all of this – other than the absolute tragedy of young people full of potential and worth being murdered by the one person who they should have been able to trust – their mother – is the reaction from many media outlets. Respected media commentators sympathise with the murderer – they seem to see Autism is a mitigating factor for guilt. This is appalling. Murder – and murder of a child especially – should be met with the full force of the law. Media outlets should not blame the victims and tacitly excuse the gravest of crimes.
Obviously this is a very fraught issue and parents who commit these evil acts are not in a good place but a few things should happen to help address this situation:
- Autistic life should be valued to the same extent that other human life is valued
- Media outlets who have issues around victim-blaming should change their attitudes and gain some experience of the value that Autistic people bring to life
- Societal attitudes around Autism need to shift from the negative to the positive. Autism is not ‘a tragedy’.
- Parents should be supported to love, care for and value their children and supports provided if they are experiencing difficulty.
Stop the victim-blaming. They are innocent beautiful children who deserve a future.