In the aftermath of 6 year old Autistic boy London McCabe’s murder last week I find myself with a swirling mind and heavy heart.
Days after London’s death I now find myself outraged at the permissive tone towards murder that has become too common recently in relation to deaths of Autistic children at the hands of their parents and caregivers.
Shockingly, in light of these tragic events in an article published by NBC News November 5th, Dee Sheperd-Look, a professor of psychology at California State University, Northridge commented, “These children are really unable to be in a reciprocal relationship, and the moms don’t really experience the love that comes back from the child. The bonding is mitigated.” Sheperd-Look runs an education group for mothers of Autistic children.
Not only is this stunning statement absolutely false, but it is harmful to a readership who may have minimal knowledge of Autism, or be altogether unfamiliar with it. Then understandably yet damagingly take it as fact.
Despite Shepard-Look’s degree and any good intent, she clearly demonstrates little to no understanding of Autism. Her remarks are so damaging to Autistic people it is unthinkable.
I find myself at a unique juncture in the midst of these young lives lost, harmful comments, and I hope enlightening dialogue.
I am Autistic. And the mother of two children, one of whom is also on the Autism Spectrum.
As an Autistic person I understand holding up the massive weight of living as an Autistic minority in a neuro-typical world.
Having lived through my own childhood and teen years on into adult and parenthood surrounded by the individuals who shaped my world has delivered me to this point of convergence.
I have experienced the difference between complete unconditional love and acceptance, and utter rejection in the face of being misunderstood. Of cold exclusion and dismissal, and conversely the warmth of unflinching welcome and envelopment.
I have witnessed my own parents confusion, desperation, exhaustion, unending love, and dedication. I will always feel a profound sense of love and gratitude for my mother and father for believing in me. For loving me. They never gave up on me.
They not only gave me life, they saved my life by saying and showing me over, and over it was ok to be me in a world that at times was otherwise too painful too endure.
As a mother, I know the soaringly high joys and the broad scope of challenges involved in parenting an Autistic child.
Beyond the shared experience of being the parent of an Autistic child like London’s mother and alleged killer Jillian McCabe, we share in some other very similar life circumstances that are being repeated in the media: Supporting a partner with a chronic, progressive, degenerative disability. Changing and adjusting medications with exceptionally poor outcome resulting in crisis, doctor, and hospital visits. Ill managed medication and protracted, heinous withdrawals. Lack of necessary services. Financial strain tugging from every side. And the death of my father- a burst of light to all, my steady beacon in blinding seas, and ready compass on stable ground- to an extremely rare type of cancer.
The ebb and flow of life’s darker turns compounding the particular daily challenges of living on the Autism Spectrum and parenting a child on the Autism Spectrum.
I have gone through periods of time where I have felt more than not, unmoored. Unhinged. Beyond isolated in my struggles.
I know and understand overwhelm too well.
The headlines point to Jillian McCabe’s overwhelm in her parenting London as understandable reason for murdering her son. In fact alarmingly Sheperd-Look was also quoted as saying, “quite frankly, I am surprised this doesn’t happen more often.”
We would never tolerate such remarks if we were discussing a child with cancer.
Undoubtedly both disabled children and their parents need a plethora of supports manifest on both emotional and practical platforms in consistent, tangible ways. But it must go without saying that if the critical fracture of caregiver fatigue occurs- murdering an Autistic child is never an outcome we can accept or sympathize with.
Where is London’s story here? He was the child who was murdered by his mother, thrown from a bridge 100 feet into freezing, heaving water to his death.
By both stripping Autistic people of their voices, and turning up the sound on false information like Shepard-Look’s we are teetering horrifyingly close to having made Autistic children scapegoats for murder.
Caregivers can never justifiably murder children in their care. Ever.
Spreading inaccurate information like Shepard-Look’s is not only terribly hurtful to Autistic people, but serves to further confuse and isolate parents and caregivers. As well as providing the general public with misinformation which Autistic children and their parents must then actively battle in the world everyday.
Autistic children empathize, feel deeply, are capable of reciprocal relationships, and love.
My Autistic child is the most sincerely thoughtful, kind, and compassionate kid you could hope to know. Love and connection may look different coming from a person on the Autism Spectrum, but this difference does not invalidate that love. It’s time we stopped measuring what love should look like with a neuro-typical yardstick while living in a neuro-diverse world. Or for that matter measuring love at all. If you’ve taken the time to fill the heart of a child on the Autism spectrum, their heart is surely full. And their love is real.
As a society it is our responsibility to stop the devaluing of Autistic people’s inherent worth as human being with a deserved place on this earth. We must not allow such misinformed statements to drone out the sound of truth.
About Bronwen Dearing
Bronwen lives in Vermont with her family where she is a diversity and inclusion advocate and artist. She is currently studying systems of societal power.
Opinions expressed by Autism Daily Newscast Contributors are their own.