Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Denver post article: parents of children with autism "risk hitting a breaking point"

Yesterday's Denver Post ran a story with the title "Autism’s terrible toll: Parents risk hitting a breaking point" about 13-year-old Jacob Grabe, who had Asperger's Syndrome, and was allegedly shot and killed in early September by his father, Alex Grabe, while he was sleeping. The article recalls and lists “similar chilling stories of sudden parental breakdowns have played out in the U.S. in the past several years,” including Katie McCarron, Ulysses Stable and Kyle Dutter, who was shot and killed by his father, who then killed himself, earlier this month. The full story is here ....

For a thoughtful critique of the Denver Post article, see posts here and here by Prof. Dick Sobsey from ICAD, who argues, amongst other things, that the stresses and challenges of parenting a child with a disability can never be an excuse for abuse or murder, and to think otherwise is both wrongheaded and dangerous. Here is an excerpt:

The idea that we can explain child abuse or child murder as a product of child characteristics is neither supported by research or useful.

If Ms. Lofholm wrote a story about how stressful it was for husbands to have independent women as wives and how some of them just snap under the stress and kill or abuse their wives, I hope there would be a lot of feedback on why this kind of thinking is both wrongheaded and dangerous. If she wrote an article on how some bigots find it extremely “maddening” to see people among racial minorities asserting their equal rights, and sometimes they just snap and commit hate crimes, I hope that most people would take exception. Of course, it is true that abusive or homicidal husbands often find their wives’ independent behavior to be a source of stress, and it is also true that some bigots consider minority members “who don’t know their place” to be at blame for driving them to violence… but this does not make their crimes any more excusable. Blaming a child or a child’s disability for the parent’s violence is no more rationale and no more excusable.

I do empathize with parents of children with autism and other disabilities, who sometimes face a lot of stress and often lack adequate supports. I have great respect, and I am happy to celebrate those who face these challenges. Those who respond to those challenges with abuse or murder, are no better or worse than other child abusers or child murderers. The truth is that most children who are murdered are murdered by a parent (60 to 80% of child murderers) and most parents who kill their children are stressed over something whether or not the child has a disability.

While many people believe that abuse of children with disabilities is somehow related to the stress that they cause their parents, this theory is not consistent with research or common sense. A classic study by Mary Benedict and colleagues measured stress in families of children with severe disabilities and and also kept data on child maltreatment. She did find that some families experienced high levels of stress and that significant numbers of children with disabilities were abused, but there was no relationship between stress level and abuse. Also, the excessive-stress-and-I-just snapped theory does nothing to explain why sexual abuse of children with disabilities is increased by as large a margin as physical abuse.

A link to the ICAD blog is here ....