I know how it feels to be the victim, the mother, the caregiver and the social worker. And I know this: IT IS WRONG TO MURDER YOUR AUTISTIC CHILD.
It’s Wrong to Murder Your Autistic Child.
Issy Stapleton, 14, remained hospitalized in Grand Rapids, Michigan late Wednesday after her mother, Kelli Stapleton, allegedly attempted to murder her.
State police Lt. Kip Belcher said two portable charcoal grills were burning inside the vehicle where Issy was found unconscious. He said the van’s windows were shut and investigators believe Issy’s mother intended to murder her daughter.
Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer Tang-Anderson said authorities don’t believe the incident was an accident. Benzie County Prosecutor Sara Swanson said she authorized a felony attempted murder charge.
Belcher says Issy may have suffered permanent brain damage from the carbon monoxide poisoning. Issy’s mother was also found in the van and though unconscious when found, is expected to make a full recovery and is expected to be arraigned yet this week in 85th District Court.
Attempted murder carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment with parole.
The above story is what I constructed by merely pulling from the original story. It is horrifying. Any person who attempts to murder a 14-year-old sparks in us an outrage, as it should. It is not uncommon for people to read this and say, “I hope that murderer never gets out of prison!” or even, “Prison is too good for her!”
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.
It’s Wrong to Sympathize with the Murderer
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.
There are ever so many things wrong with this story line we see repeated about the “unfortunate tragedy” due to the “lack of services” for the family of an autistic person, while writing out the actual autistic person who was in fact murdered or had an attempt of murder carried out against her.
Here are some facts the news reports do not tell us:
1. Autistic people are human beings. Human beings do not
deserve to be murdered. PERIOD. NO ifs, ands or buts.
2. Autistic people’s lives are not worth less than other people’s lives.
3. Autistic people do NOT cause their caregivers to murder them.
4. Lack of services is not a reason for murder.
5. If you are a parent or caregiver and feel the only way out is to murder your
child you are in crisis. Call a crisis line. Your child may be removed from your
care temporarily. Foster care isn’t great, but it will keep your child alive while
your crisis state can be addressed.
I know by writing this I will have many parents of autistic children jump all over me saying all the usual things they say. So, I will tell you a bit about me ahead of time.
I was “severe” enough as a child to be institutionalized. As a teen I lived in two foster care arrangements that were not appropriate for an autistic teen. One was a group home for mentally retarded adults (that word was not a bad word at the time) even though I was neither mentally retarded or an adult. The other was a group home for delinquent teens; I was a teen, but not delinquent.
It took me a long time to grow up, but I did grow up. Today I have 3 grown sons, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. I was told my autistic son exhausted all the services when he was a teen, including the state mental institution after which he was returned home to my care. At times I feared for my life. I feared for the lives of my other children. I was only told my son had failed all the services my county had to offer and that I should call the police when he became violent.
I foster parented a severely autistic teen for a short time. I went to college. I got a master’s degree in social work. I worked in clinical settings. Eventually, I limited my practice to autism. Today I have my own business. I am an author, consultant, artist and international speaker on autism topics.
I write all this about myself because, nearing retirement, I have experienced all sides of this many-faceted story. I know how it feels to be the victim, the mother, the caregiver and the social worker. I understand foster care from the angle of the kid in the system, the foster parent and the social worker. And I can tell you that at the end of the day no matter how I look it I know this:
IT IS WRONG TO MURDER YOUR AUTISTIC CHILD.
If murder is looking like a solution to you it means you are near the breaking point and need help. Call your local crisis center and say these words, “I am thinking about murdering my autistic child and here is how I would do it.” Then tell them your plan. If you do not have a local crisis hot line go to the nearest hospital emergency room and say the same words. It is not a perfect solution. It is a crisis solution, but will ensure you get someone to help you in the moment because murder is not a solution to your problem.
To see the full story that excuses the attempted murder and in fact writes Issy out of the story part way through here is the link:
[…] While most people are aware of autism, they are more aware of the stigma and the fear. They are aware of the “link” between autism and vaccines. They are aware that autism is not something you want to deal with yourself. They are aware of the autism “epidemic”. They are aware of how hard autism is on families and how difficult it is to get help and services, driving many to despair, and even worse, murder. […]
[…] ran by non-autistic people sympathize with the parents who murder their autistic children, no matter their age or abilities or “functioning”, and the media congratulates them […]
I don’t believe the writer fully understands the depth of despair of a mother who works full time but doesn’t have the money for intensive care for her autistic children, doesn’t have any spousal support or help, can’t get help from government agencies without quitting her job to devote the necessary time to dealing with them, has failing health from lack of sleep, isolation (there is no money and no babysitter who will deal with autistic tantrums), and stress, not to mention the deep, deep sadness in knowing that your child will never be able to live anywhere but an institution-assuming there is one available when Mom dies or collapses. Don’t tellher “You should…” Because there’s no energy and no time and no way. Understand the frustration and anger and self-reproach, as well as community stigma and disapproval. The mother is truly alone in a hell she feels is of her own making.
If you or anyone you know needs help, there is help out there. I’ll help you find it. What the writer, Judy Endow, is saying is that murdering or harming your child is NOT the solution. Whatever the situation, that is not the solution. There are alternatives and there is an enormous community of people that will help. How can we help? LSH
[…] It is wrong to murder your autistic child – Judy Endow is an autistic adult, social worker, and parent of an autistic child. This article addresses the subject thoroughly – from the child’s perspective, not the parent’s; society’s sometimes-chilling view of disabled people, and also includes some practical advice for parents in crisis. […]
I’ve found add medication can kind of help, along with being aware of the condition and it’s problems. Maybe I’m wrong about that though.
I was abused quite a bit for my autism as a child. I was never diagnosed, I’m 28 now and am seeing a doctor about this. I could be wrong about being autistic, I don’t really know. Alot of my childhood memories are fragmented and not quite there or even realiable(in my opinion.)
I find this insulting and depressing to know how a parent can take away the life of a child, even if the child is disabled, it breaks my heart and brings tears to my eyes knwoing that there will always be stupid parents in this world. I suffer from autism aswell (although in an extreme mild way) but i just find it disgusting at how stupid a parent can be.Even though i feel sorry for all the poor souls that have autism (god bless them) i actually dont want autistic children because i want children who dont need extra help but all i want to say is good luck to those who have autism cause some autistics have done amazing things in the history of this world i know more will come along.
If Issy murdered someone, she would not be held accountable for her crime because of her disability. However, the mother clearly also suffers from a disability – severe depression, yet she is not given the same amount of compassion as any other disabled person who acted outside of their control would be given. Oh, and I love the people who say “if she just would have taken more time for herself – caretakers need to take breaks to remain healthy.” Clearly only someone who is not raising special needs kids would say that. Who is going to take over during your “break?” Family? Yeah – they all want to watch violent dangerous children. Respite? Good luck finding one. Inpatient? That is only a short term solution. The only break this woman probably got was during the day when her child was at school and then that was taken away.
I am the parent of an autistic child. The stressors caused by living with autism, clearly just pushed this person over an edge that they were already standing on. Instead of looking for the cause in their children, let’s look for the cause in the individuals themselves. We need to stop rationalizing such a brutal crime, and see it for what it is. Murder.
I wrote about this in my blog – http://speranzalaura.blogspot.com/
In the case where the autistic individual was attacking someone…self defence.is NOT the same as planning and carrying out a murder!!!
One key point seems to have been overlooked, here. This was a failed murder-SUICIDE attempt. Desperate people, feeling terrified and helpless, are known to resort to this when it has absolutely nothing to do with autism.
Thank you, Judy. It seems that you are stating the obvious, but evidently, it needs to be said.
This woman might have exhausted the system, but she didn’t exhaust her young angels’ potential. I weep for the beautiful mind that was murdered because the parents were incapable of seeing beyond their own woe’s.
If my daughter was aggressive enough to put me in the hospital, it would only happen once. Then, I would enroll myself in a karate class for subduing techniques.
So many people don’t know what it feels like to have so much energy pumping through your bodies that you always feel like you’re about to explode. To feel it building and know that you will be incapable of controlling it. Again. And know that you are probably going to hurt someone you love. Again. The shame and regret that follows is excruciating. And you can’t understand why it keeps happening. But it does.
You mothers who say, “Nobody understands what I have to put up with” or “murder isn’t an uncommon thought for someone in my situation”, you should see it from a different angle. How would you feel if you were more of a burden than a blessing, and knew it? How would you feel if you knew that you drove your own parent to want to kill you?
You seem to think that just because your child doesn’t communicate in a way that you can understand, they cannot understand you.
There are always options. They may not appeal to you, but if murder is more appealing than disgrace, you don’t deserve the blessing you were given. And they most certainly do not deserve you.
This child is a human being. A brilliant human being. Not less than. Not a burden. Think what she would have contributed to society had she been cared for instead of put up with. Did they want services so she wasn’t such a handful? Or did they want help for her so that she could live in peace? With healthy outlets for all that energy before it reaches a boiling point. And if it does reach a boiling point, peace in the knowledge that she can safely explode and not feel guilty after.
LOVE YOUR KIDS! No matter how hard you think you have it, they have it harder.
thank u for that the parents are so often treated as if they dont care for their autistic children
Thank you for this piece and for relating to many angles of this story. I have a sibling with autism/ID and I love reading pieces by self-advocates, but it can be frustrating when some don’t understand or empathize with the family perspective, especially for those with more severe autism.
This is a tragedy that happens far too often. I research autism in China (where there is almost no autism awareness or any type of service or even special education) and I cannot tell you how many parents there tell me, a foreigner and a stranger, in interviews that they seriously contemplated suicide and there have been several cases where it actually occurred. As you pointed out, this is caused not only the exhaustion from lack of services but the cultural attitude that tells them their child is worthless and has no future and they are terrible parents. For children with autism and their families the system fails them but the culture fails them too.
Many murders of children with autism are murder/suicides, and suicide is the last stage of severe mental illness. We don’t use this as an excuse for mentally ill school shooters who then take their own lives, and we should not for these parents either. As you said, it must be clear that murder is wrong and all lives are equally precious. But in looking forward and trying to prevent these crimes, and many crimes in society today, we definitely need to address the stigma around mental illness, be more attuned to the signs of families in crisis, and encourage people to get help before they break and it’s too late.
I have gotten ever so many comments on this blog from parents of autistics defending Issy’s mother. I answered some, but then stopped answering.
The funny thing is when I don’t respond many parents of autistics think they somehow “won” and really have no idea what BIG LOSERS they really are – yes THEY ARE THE LOSER and they have NO CLUE.
I say LOSER not to be disrespectful, but because whenever a person uses words to effectively silence the autistic voice from any conversation involving autism society loses.
Perhaps now Issy will get the help she has needed. What does the future look like for someone who is autistic and violent? Prison? A psychiatric facility? A future of drugs strong enough to keep her from harming her caregivers? My prayers are there for her and her family.
WELL SAID Judy Endow!!!!
Shame on the whole bunch of you. You pass judgment on this mother who obviously snapped in the face of lack of services, lack of help from family members, isolation and depression. Is her depression any less important than her daughter’s autism? Look deep into your hearts and find some compassion. Compassion is what makes us human, although I have to say lately I haven’t seen much evidence of it.
Another awful story, like Alex Spourdalakis. So when is CBS “news” reporter, Sharyl Attkisson, going to show up and make excuses for the mother here. People deserve to live whether they have ASD, bipolar disorder, diabetes, or broken arm. We are civilized human beings and we should always protect and help each other.
Such a lovely young girl. She didn’t deserve such a fate.
We are a society that has been taught that when things seem too hard to bear, aborting our offspring is an answer. That somehow when the problem is eliminated things will go back to normal. Although, I realize that this woman tried to kill herself as well.
It stands to reason that when abortion is an acceptable answer to kids with disabilities found in utero, that a sick twisted message is being sent out to moms living with their disabled kids.
When someone has spent years in crisis mode, and in desperation they feel there is no where else to go, they plan and carry out aborting the life of their child after the fact.
I still maintain that what contributes to this kind of killing is our freedom to abort our children on demand. Without question.
My prayers go out to Isabella for a speedy recovery and to her family who are going through this nightmare. We do however have to ensure there is realization that she is a victim and individuals with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be victims of crime. The following are resources that victims with ASD, their families/care providers, and victim service professionals can use to assist with these investigations and ensure proper care and services for those who have been victimized. In this case now Isabella is a victim and the reasons for that hopefully will be explored. However now she needs prayers and positive thoughts to recover and obtain the victim services she deserves.
Please share these resources that were created to assist victims of crime living with autism via a grant from the Department of Justice and the Office for Victims of Crime.
Brochure for victims:
Brochure for care providers to assist:
Fact sheet for first responders:
Fact sheet for emergency medical professionals:
Fact sheet for the judicial sector:
Fact sheet for child abuse counselors:
Fact sheet for domestic violence and sexual assault counselors:
Fact sheet for social workers and counselors:
Iam a parent of a young man with autism. Nowhere on this earth is it ok to murder a child. I don’t care what the issues are. You are right. This story should not be about the mother but about this innocent girl who will now struggle more than ever.
I am a mother of a autistic son and yes things may get difficult at time I would never harm my child in fact everyday I fight for my child to be treated with the same respect that some one would give my other children me or my husband my child is human and god has a special plan for him and one day we will find out what that would be but until then we have to stand up to the bullies of the world.
I value your insight. (and I appreciate knowing your history. I think it brings great resources to the discussion.) However, a couple of points- 1. of course it is wrong to murder your autistic child. No one is saying otherwise. 2. after that statement is made and accepted, then the question becomes- what is the punishment or penalty? here is where the empathy comes in. this child was valued and protected and not abused. this mother (and other family members) were beaten, attacked and overwhelmed (to put it mildly) by the lack of meaningful supports. No one can blame Izzy for those acts. what was she trying to communicate? (health issues? anger? frustration?) I don’t know. but the facts are the family still suffered and from your history, you know what that looks like. for some reason, this outgoing, supportive, creative mother snapped. (was she on medication? had there been a change in her health? medication combination changed?) I have no knowledge that any of those questions are relevant. However- consider the purpose of penalties- punish and/or deter. she will be punished. she has lost her family (she will never be able to live anywhere near Izzy again) and she has lost her other children too and they have lost her. she will probably be in jail for a significant period of time and they won’t have her at their weddings or birth of their first child or any other significant event. deterrent? well this wasn’t a rational act and certainly not one that was within her character or pattern of behavior. This whole family is a victim of this nightmare -and the nightmare has been going on for years. so to wrap up here, empathy is a key part of the approach to this family and I would ask that you have empathy for everyone, they are all victims.
As a social worker and a single mother to a child with autism and two more through international adoption that also have special needs it seems as professionals we may also need to take a closer look at our clients and come to recognize that we may need to step in and be that voice before it gets to this point. And not assume that everything is okay even though it may look like it is on the outside. For someone such as Ms. Stapleton who had fought the system for so long with rarely any success I can say it doesn’t surprise me she didn’t go to anyone for help after all the times she was let down. IT IS NOT OKAY by any means to murder your child, (let alone murder anyone) I can only imagine the emotional toll it had taken on her and the hopelessness she must have been feeling and going through to get to that point.
Here is an article that I feel explained it so much better.
We as a communityh failed this family. Someone desperate enough to think that the only solution is to end life is obviously way beyond ability to think or plan. We need to reach these families struggling. Have been to the point of wanting to take my then child and leave him in the woods. HAve felt that awful violent surge of uncontrollable panic of “I don;t know what to do”. Fortunately I had help. Not people telling me my child had failed all services offered but help in “here, let us care for your son awhile while we figure oust together what to do. Life saving, heart saving help.
well written as always Judy! So wrong that out even needs to be said…
Every person alive is here for a reason, use your talents whatever they are to help others. If we showed love toward one another things like this would never happen. Judy Endow I enjoy reading your thoughts, keep up your amazing work.
I have been a care giver almost my entire life, I did not stop to think the original story threw. I never think it is right to kill under any circumstance, I do understand desperation. I find the whole story so very sad and always try to understand where this comes from? No mother should have to face what this mother did. She was so wrong to try and take her child’s life, how have we gotten to this level?
This is the best response to this tragic incident yet. Murder and suicide are never rational. I’m not excusing what Kelli did, but depression is an insidious thing and robs people of their rationality. I think the saddest part is that the parents who do these terrible things never see crisis centers and foster care as an option. In their minds, only they can give their child the best care but they’re at the end of their rope. They truly believe that if they, who love their child, can’t care for them then no one else can either and think it’s kinder to end their child’s life than for their child to be abused and misunderstood in someone else’s hands.
Shared on my Fumbling Thru Autism page. this is so important.
Thanks for sharing.
I would love to see what you think of the mother’s blog and what went wrong. =/ so sad.
This horrifying to me. I am the parent of a high functioning autistic little girl. Yes she can be a hand full but she is also a blessing. God doesn’t make junk. None of us was born perfect.
This disgust me. This is your child. I lost my child to Cancer. Children our to nourished and loved. I’m not saying its easy. I work daily with my niece who has Aspergers I see the struggles but I would never even think about hurting her. I think she’s special…
Very nice statement, though as a parent of an adult autistic daughter, the system clearly told me that I could only kill myself in order to get my child services. I could not get respite services. Needing short breaks to survive the constant hounding for attention, suicide or divorce were the options, until one day, when she was 20 years old, the group home alternative became available. Parents are not provided this as a light at the end of the tunnel. Disabled children are treated horribly, but so are the parents.
Thank you for taking Issy’s side…I am a mom of twins with autism spectrum, Bi Polar and ADHD…Yes, I get fustrated, but never in my life would I consider taking their lives…As parents we need a better support system, but so do those that have Autism and other behaivoral issues…We as a society have failed the Issy’s out there…
Sounds an awful lot like she was attempting to take her own life as well. I think she probably wanted to kill herself and then wondered who would take care of her child for the rest of her life? maybe she had no answer to that question so thought the only way was to kill herself and her daughter. I have 3 kids with different special needs. some relatively minor, some harder to deal with.. Thankfully none that make me wonder who will someday have to take care of them after I’m gone. But I imagine that thought would be terrifying, and if you were suicidal I could see how this could happen. I hope the girl lives and the mom gets the help she needs.
I am an Autistic adult, and I am way beyond sick and tired of being treated like I am “less-than”. I am still a valuable human being who matters, dammit, and this world needs to wake up and start respecting us! There is NO excuse under the sun whatsoever, for any parent or caregiver….or ANYONE to abuse us, use us, exploit us, mistreat us, squelch us, silence us, or murder us! Thank you for writing this, Judy! <3
thank you Judy . Powerful message.
I do totally agree there is no excuse.
I thank God that my family treated me like everyone else (has HFA/Asperger’s Syndrome)
you must understand a child is not a burden when you give birth you do it astride an open grave GOD is the judge and mom is sick pray 4 both.
It is wrong to murder yes absolutely but from what I got from the story she was giving up and was committing murder suicide. Sometimes when people cant’t handle their life and they want to kill themselves they think that their special needs child would not be safe without them so they take both their and their child’s life. This is not right but imagine what this person is going through to do something like this. It doesn’t mean that she didn’t love the child it actually is quite the opposite but they feel as though they can’t go on and are afraid the child won’t be loved or taken care of when they are gone.
Of course it’s wrong to murder your Autistic child, they most likely wouldn’t think about murdering their kid if it had asthma! We need better support & social networks people can reach out to when they’re exhausted, frustrated, & without hope. Autism is no more justification for murder than going to a war based on lies!
of course murder is not the answer but I would say at some point if not already it enters a parent or parents minds. sometimes when the pressure and feeling of what in the world is going to happen to my child when we are not around to protect and take care of him is overwhelming and instead of leaving them behind to endure no telling what I can see where it enters their mind that they are still taking care of them by taking them with them. not justifying by any means but I can certainly see where it could happen.
Needs to be said. Again. and again. and again.
Thank you for writing this, Judy. This needs to be made widely available to parents, and I agree with Debi Edmund Ellertsen that it should be required reading for news editors as well.
Judy Endow thank you.
((Judy Endow)) <3.
This article should be required reading for every news editor that runs a story about yet another murder of an autistic child.
<3 you Judy Endow.
Thank you Judy. Thank you.