Abusing Stereotypes of Autism and Death
One of most disturbing myths I’ve encountered in the autism world, is the claim that parents of autistic children are more likely to kill their children, than parents of neurotypical children. This is simply untrue, the statistics do not support the claim. The causes of filicide are more deeply rooted and connected to mental health issues too, rather than having any connection with autism itself. So who keeps spreading this horrible idea that parents are eager to kill their autistic children, and why do they keep making this claim?
I hate to say it, but it’s almost always autistic self-advocates who continue this baseless and extremely damaging claim. I’ve seen it in multiple blog posts, and in many more comment sections. Why would they want to do this?
There’s a war of sorts between autistic adults and autism parents, over who has the “correct” view of what is best for autistic children. The “war,” however, is at the extremes of both groups: Those autistic adults who would rather see few or no interventions to address autistic behaviors, and those parents who are willing to try damaging or unproven interventions. However, both extreme groups get generalized to the larger whole, which makes it easier to target broad attacks on entire groups of people, rather than acknowledging that it is a few rather than the majority who hold to either extremes.
This broad targeting makes for more alarming writing, and attracts intensely concerned readers who “simply must do something!,” over to the writer’s cause. It’s really not that different from dropping propaganda on a confused and ill-informed public in war time: You make the enemy look as bad as possible, strike fear in people’s hearts, and try to get them to see you as their savior (and perhaps even buy your book while they’re at it, why not). The truth is less alarming and makes for less interesting reading. It’s really the same attraction held by conspiracy theories.
So it makes sense to make parents of autistic children look like they’d rather kill their kids than accept them, it’s a good way to tar the entire parenting population and make your own views seem like the only sensible alternative to such a naturally outrageous view. Some parents endorse the filicide narrative too, again because it supports their own agenda. Typically they use it to claim we wouldn’t be killing our kids if we had sufficient supports available to our families. As nice an agenda as that may be, using false and immensely harmful claims to reach that point is unacceptable. The ends do not justify the means. It also runs too close to the completely disproven Bettelheim approach to understanding autism: Treating parents of autistic children as some sort of evil group, merely by the fact that their children have autism.
Recently, when the Connecticut tragedy cast a long painful shadow on the autism community – when people decided autism must be connected with mass shootings – were there masses of parents of autistic children grabbing the chance to abuse the stereotype? Did you read multiple blog posts from the autism parenting community saying “yes, our children must be put to death or be institutionalized to stop this horror happening again.”? Or did you see multiple blog posts defending the innocence and beauty and gentleness of our children? Did you see the creation of “Autism Shines” by the autism parenting community, with the aim of countering the negative and incorrect violent stereotypes of autistic individuals? I saw the latter. The world did. The news did. Everyone did.
We didn’t abuse the unfounded stereotype of autism connected to violence to serve our own ends. We didn’t use it to belittle autism self-advocates and put them in their place so that our voices as parents would we heard louder than theirs in the future: “Oh you must let us drive the autism out of our kids so we can stop them becoming killers, oh you must let us find a cure to stop this horror ever happening again...”
But wait. There were two incidents – two, only two, out of hundreds – that I can recall where that did happen. Where a parent started a Facebook group calling all Aspergers people killers and demanding cure, and a blog post where a sister to an autistic man claimed the violence inherent in autism could be avoided if we adequately funded the autism community. Did other parents rally to their cause? The exact opposite, we fought tooth and nail to shut them down and have the pieces removed, we commented endlessly to set the record straight. Is that the behavior you expect of people who are more likely to kill their own children?
It seems to me there is a double standard here, in terms of abusing erroneous stereotypes of autism and death. That it is acceptable for some autistic adults to keep spreading a link between autism parents and murder, but it’s accepted by autism parents that we would never use the same dirty tactics to undercut the voice of the adult autistic population. We instead leapt to the defense of our children and all autistic individuals. So where is the outcry protecting us each time another extremist autistic self-advocate mindlessly links parents with killing autistic children..?
I would like to say that because the autism-parent-self-advocate war operates at the extreme ends, that they get seen for the extremes they are, and not treated as a general view of more mild or sensible individuals. But we are told all the time that we must hear all the perspectives of autism, hear the grown up autism voices, realize that their views aren’t extreme, just “different.” And in that lovely open-minded state, the extreme gets bundled in with the more logical and gentle views, and we get told they’re all equally worthy of our consideration, otherwise we are shutting down their unique voices. Even when the claims made by the extremists are not founded on evidence or reality, or are over-generalized in a way that damages the entire parenting population.
Whereas parents are “just parents.” Our voices, our experiences, are just one more neurotypical voice, and can be dismissed far more easily. The fact that we are individual people, with individual children, gets lost in the noise about “privilege” rhetoric. We are expected to sit down and shut up in the blogging world, which is what we get told all the time in the real world: “You’re just not disciplining your child,” “ your child is fine you just want a label for him, you’re just seeking attention,” “but those are issues every parent faces, your kid is no different than my normal one.” We get told all the time how invalid and un-necessary our voices are, so yes it burns a raw nerve when we get told our views are worth little or nothing in the blogging world too.
In fact, I am so afraid of the backlash and hatred that even raising these views creates, that I have submitted this piece anonymously to Jill’s blog. I already know, from past experience, that I will be labelled as hating autistic people just because I don’t agree with some of their views or find some of their arguments weak or un-supported. It is a logical fallacy to judge an argument stronger or weaker according to who is making it, but logic seems to go out the window in the autism wars, replaced by emotion and declaring arguments invalid by virtue of “privilege.”
Ultimately, all I’m trying to say is let’s recognize that extreme views and experiences shouldn’t tar entire communities, let’s not use stereotypes and misinformation to silence other people in the autism world, let’s stop the double-standard that uses connections between autism and murder to shut up an entire population involved in the autism world.
I want to say “can’t we all just get along”, but I’m not that naive. If all I achieve in this post is reassuring parents that they’re not part of some more-likely-to-kill population, then I’d be happy with that outcome. Next time you see someone using an extreme view in an attempt to silence an entire group of people, call the writer out on the abuse. I am not a destined-killer, my son is not a destined-killer. All that’s being killed, is an open respectful conversation between people involved in the autism community.
Edit: The author has asked me to add the following:
People have been asking for examples of the claim that autistic children are murdered at a higher rate by their parents. I was honestly surprised that they were calling for examples of something I encountered so frequently in comments, and on blog posts, and in forums; I thought these horrible statements were widely encountered by others too. Admittedly, they are come across most often when there has been a recent high-profile murder of an autistic child, I can gladly say this hasn’t happened in a while (that I am aware of). So I’m not surprised that the examples aren’t fresh in people’s minds right now. Even though I knew a Google search wouldn’t locate the places the comments are made most often – in blog and news comment sections and in forum discussions – I attempted a search anyway to locate some examples. Many of the links located through the search were dead links, the post or blog had gone under or been moved / renamed. I was able to locate a few key examples though, this is just illustrative of a much larger number of comments perpetuating the myth:
"Autistics are murdered by mothers or fathers at an alarming frequency." By EvilAutie: http://evilautie.org/2012/12/19/autism-is-linked-to-violence/
“We know, for example, that more autistics are murdered by their parents than non-autistics.” Comment by “Undefined” on Autism and Oughtisms’ blog post:http://autismandoughtisms.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/love-and-acceptance-youre-doing-it-wrong/
“Autistic children suffer abuse and are killed at higher rates than normal children.” (no stats or research provided to back up statement about higher killing rates) Nancy Lofholm, on Denverpost: http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_11116100
“Every day, autistic people are being murdered and abused by people who are supposed to provide them with love and care.” (No stats to back it up here either, just stated like a fact) On Thinking Person’s Guide, http://www.thinkingautismguide.com/2011/04/headlines-abuse-and-empathy.html
It’s also worth noting the frequency – and double-standard – of posts appealing to parents of autistic children as an entire group, to “please stop killing us,” as if murders by autism parents are very common or usual occurrences. Note that an equivalent would be if parents went around pleading autistic individuals to please stop shooting up the schools: Both claims are extremely broad and damaging generalisations about a group not actually pre-disposed to such actions:
“Stop Murdering Us!” By “Parenting with Asperger’s syndrome. http://parentingwithaspergers.blogspot.com/2012/04/stop-murdering-us.html
“Stop Killing Us” by Autistic Hoya. http://www.autistichoya.com/2012/04/stop-killing-us.html“
“You keep killing us and I am pissed” by Radical Neurodivergence Speaking: http://timetolisten.blogspot.com/2012/03/you-keep-killing-us-and-i-am-pissed.html . Which happens to include the extra charming quote: "I fucking hate autism parents."
There are plenty of more borderline examples too, where bloggers and commenters fall short of using the exact words that parents murder their autistic children at higher rates, but they still unambiguously use the presumption as the basis of their arguments and related statements.
I hope that adequately addresses those who chose to focus on that aspect of my post. I would like to point out that the example was one instance of a much broader complaint about extremist rhetorics and double-standards in the autism community.
There are other comments that probably deserve my attention in the comments too, but I do not have unlimited time so I chose to focus on the most common complaint.
All that besides, I just want to thank those who came to my post with an open-mind and a willingness to consider my concerns and to hear out my personal experiences. Some of you have praised me, which is awesome, thank you for that. Some of you have just voiced your appreciation for the chance to think about and address these issues and concerns, thank you to you too for letting me know my post was worth your time!
Thank you most importantly to Jill for giving me a safe place to share my thoughts and concerns. It’s an invaluable and powerful thing.