Kelli Stapleton. Still relevant.

Written by Beth Ryan

It was always directed toward me.  Her um anger and aggression.  Always toward me.  I wondered if that was a consequence of doing a Lovaas replication program.  Because I’ve been in her face since before she was two years old.  It was always touch your nose.  Touch the apple.  Do this.  Do that.  And you know, um, maybe this is sort of a natural consequence to that.  I’m not really sure.  But I’m sure at this point it is some sort of shaped behavior.  Because sometimes even making eye contact with her will trigger a response.  (Kelli Stapleton–full interview here)

There is no doubt that the tragedy involving Kelli Stapleton and the attempted murder of her child belongs in every single conversation around Autism “treatments”, bullying, and the way that some parents of Autistic children habitually devalue and dehumanize their children.

The fact that so many parents are still willing to make the claim that Kelli’s attempt to murder her own child is “an act of love” means that her name and the road she traveled to get to the place where she was able to harm her child needs to be brought up again and again.

We need to examine.  To scrutinize the ill fated journey that she took to get to that place.  It is uncomfortable.  It is painful.  And it is entirely necessary to talk about that heartbreaking topic.

The how and why are so very important.

The easiest answer is that there aren’t enough services.  That there aren’t enough supports for Autistic people and their families.  And while it is true that Autistic people are in desperate need of more direct services and supports, we cannot say that lack of services are to blame for Kelli’s attempt on her child’s life.  Issy had just come home from an extended stay in a residential facility and Issy had around the clock care.

So we must look elsewhere for our answers.  I believe that the answers are in the way, even as parents, we have come to see Autistic people.  Not fully human.  Not worthy of the rights and respect that most of us take for granted.

If you read Kelli’s blog, you will not think it unlike many blogs written by parents of Autistic children.  For instance, you probably would not dream of posting a video of a typical teenager at his most vulnerable moment.  But parents of Autistic children do so habitually.  When either of my children are having a challenging moment, the furthest think from my mind is snapping a picture of myself comforting her.  Or capturing a video of a meltdown.  These are sacred moments where my child needs me.  Where I am thinking, only, of making sure my child knows that I am present and loving her with my entire being.

Capturing media as fodder for one’s blog should be about the furthest thing from one’s mind.  And I don’t believe that it is with this type of parent.  The martyr mommy/daddy.  Sure they can claim that they are trying to help other parents not feel so alone…or whatever the party line is.  But even if that is true, if my belief that they are attention seeking is wrong, they are doing so at the expense of the privacy of their children.  “Helping” other parents should not override the sacred trust of a parent/child relationship.

Parents prone towards these acts of betrayal of their children are not merely poor parents.  Because the ones that I’ve seen and am speaking of are also prone towards despicable acts of emotional and verbal abuse towards Autistic adults that are brave enough to face their wrath.

This tells me that these parents have devalued, not only their children, but Autistic people in general.  This should not be exactly surprising given the culture of hate and systemic dehumanization of Autistic people that we are entrenched in.  Nonetheless, I continue to be shocked by the lengths that these parents are willing to go to viciously bully Autistic people.  They wield their advantages of the power differential in shocking and despicable ways and maintain the nerve to cry out that they are the victims of discrimination.

Discrimination is a combination of power and prejudice.  Autistic people lack power.  They are a minority group and victims of all sorts of things like media bias, systemic oppression, marginalization, etc.  Autistic people are capable of bigotry.  But they are not capable of the type of discrimination that parents of screaming about.  The continued insistence that parents are the victims is offensive and only serves to underscore the fact that these loud parents are ignorant about what it means to be part of a minority.

I wouldn’t worry so much about what these foolish parents say.  Except that they are so damn loud and aggressive.  I cannot stand the thought of their voices–the voices of murder apologists– dominating the conversation around my daughter’s neurology.  The thought that they are perpetuating the Autism Speaks’ fear and tragedy stereotypes make it impossible for me to ignore them.

And so I stand with the brave Autistic adults, who are regularly targeted and viciously attacked by this insidious tribe.  I stand with them because they are awesome and courageous and kind.  Yes.  Because they are my friends.  Yes.  But also because every single time they hang their necks out,knowing full well that they will be targeted and abused as a result, they are hanging them out for my daughter.

So I’m selfish.  And I’m grateful with every fiber of my being.  As such, it is my moral obligation–the moral obligation of every single parent of an Autistic child out there, to use our advantages to support the creation of a world where our children are seen as whole and valuable human beings.  That starts with the recognition of the fact that the assault against the humanity of any Autistic person is as good as an assault against our very children.

pacla new year

12 thoughts on “Kelli Stapleton. Still relevant.

  1. I always appreciate your input – for a long time, I didn’t know any parents of autistic children that I’d trust to “get it.” It was always a pity narrative, always wrapped in terror and woe and invalidating me and my experience as an autistic adult. I can (usually) hold a coherent conversation, I can drive, I can hold down a job, though self-employment is looking more and more likely for me now. I am living proof that autism is not a life killer, and you were one of the first parents whose writings made me think you would possibly understand that.

    I am actually a licensed attorney, and originally from Michigan. I am seriously considering writing an amicus brief (a brief not written by either of the parties in a case, more for commentary) on Kelli Stapleton’s crime. I can state with certainty that a judge in Bedzie County, MI will not understand autistic culture nor the demagoguery of Autism $peaks.

  2. I just really, really want any parent, when they’re responding to the protests of autistic adults, to ask themselves whether the way they’re about to respond is how they’d want somebody to treat *their own child,* when their child is grown up and making objections to the way they’re being treated or spoken about.

    Do you want your child being made the target of the same kind of condescension and dismissal of their experience that you’re about to hurl at an autistic grownup on the internet?

    Because they will be. Because you–parents of autistic people–are teaching the rest of the world how it’s okay to treat autistic people.

  3. Well said. I can personally understand the anger and despair on both sides, I have no understanding for any form of abuse, humiliation or other extremist measures or behaviours. While I have completely given up on the idea of one “autism community” I really hope that what is happening now will eventually lead to a consensus on the basic principles, a healthier exchange between the groups and that the “awareness” we are creating in the broad public will be one of acceptance and curiosity rather than rejection.
    Not so much because I hate conflict and believe we should all just love and accept each other (obviously, that would be ideal) but because currently, I am quite worried about the view on autism that my own son will discover when he is old enough to take in the public discussions independently. That’s scaring me at the moment and considering that all the camps are repeatedly putting forth the interest of upcoming generations of autistics, that is something that urgently has to change.

  4. Pingback: Repeat after me: We are ALL different. | (autism) comics by suburp

  5. This is a great post, and it needs to be said and it needs to be spread around. Something I noticed in the video interview with Kelli is very important. They identify Issy as aggressive, and they identify aggression as a trait of autistics. The whole interview focuses on Issy’s violence and aggression. That is a stereotype, and most autistic kids are not violent or aggressive.

    What makes some of them aggressive and others not? Dysfunctional families and societies, and that is not their fault.

    No one in that interview suggested that Issy might be violent because of the example she gets from her mother. The whole interview focuses on violence as a trait of autism and blames autism for Issy’s violence. I am autistic, and I have been abused by neurotypicals (even mothers of autistic kids) and they intentionally waited for me to react so they could place all the blame on me for the conflict and abuse that they started. Neurotypicals love to do that stuff. Even the interviewer, who claims to support autistics, based the whole interview on the assumption that the autistic is always wrong; if there are violent outbursts in a family, the autistic child is always assumed guilty and that is totally unfair. People attack autistics and then blame us for being aggressive because we tried to defend ourselves, and that has happened to me lots of time, even by mothers who claim to be autism advocates.

    Is it possible that Issy might have learned to be violent from her mother? When that interview was recorded, most people would probably have said that it was not her mother’s fault and something needed to be done about Issy’s violence. But we now know that Kelli attempted to murder Issy, one of the most violent things a person can do. What else don’t we know about the way that Kelli might have treated Issy? What don’t we know about most of the parents who claim they have violent autistic kids? Why are autistics assumed to be guilty until they can prove their innocence? Why don’t we look to the parents? How many other autistic kids are accused of having behavior problems, or worse, only to project a false stereotype on them? How many of those kids have a very good reason to be angry about the way they are treated, but their passive aggressive parents psychologically abuse them by blaming the kids for every domestic conflict that happens in the household? We need more attention on the ways that parents treat autistics (not just their own kids, but all autistics, even adults), and we need to stop blaming the autistics for every conflict that comes up with their parents and other neurotypicals. When autistics get blamed for everything, they become the whole society’s punching bags. Of course they are going to fight back at the whole world when they are treated like that. Believe me, the hatred from neurotypicals (even mothers of autistic kids) is way too intense to live with anymore. I have felt it myself from mothers who boast on their blogs about being so supportive of autistics, but quite of few of them are not supportive at all, they are prejudice.

  6. Yes. Exactly this. Kelli’s use of the Lovaas technique was probably well meaning but it was also abusive, and her many attempts to transform her autistic daughter into a neurotypical child are no doubt at the root of Issy’s frustration and intense meltdowns.

    Kelli planted the seed, and she has to take the consequences. A child’s purpose in life is NOT to meet her mother’s needs, and in fact it’s the other way around. Issy needed an autism friendly environment — with low stimulation, freedom to stim as much as she liked, rigid adherence to her routine, and unfortunately, sometimes, a human punching bag when those requirements couldn’t be met. If Kelli could not provide the one, she was responsible to provide the other.

    I’ve seen Kelli’s blog, and was particularly struck by the “me, me, me” moaning about how “horrific” it is to be beaten up on a daily basis. Kelli, try being the subject of 24/7 ABBA “treatment” and you will know horrific. Kelli should have just taken her beatings and shut up. Instead she splashed her daughter’s personal issues all over the internet.

    Kelli is also obviously not suited to be the mother of an autistic child. If you read her blog post about “retraining the Mom brain” you will see how clueless she was about her daughter’s triggers. Issy was communicating with her mother loud and clear, but Kelli wasn’t paying attention — Kelli, if your daugher beats you into unconsciousness when you try to console her distress with a hug, she is trying to tell you someting. Stop hugging her!

    Possibly Issy would never be able to live independently or hold a job without getting her aggression under control. But her aggression came from meltdowns — they weren’t Issy’s fault. And what are parents for anyway? Kelli owed it to Issy to respect her autism and spend the rest of her life in exacting servitude to Issy’s need for routine (and getting punched in the head when she failed). In fact, if she simply paid more attention to her daughter’s triggers her beatings would no doubt decrease in frequency to just a few a day.

    The only thing is that Kelli had two other children. When Issy’s meltdowns ended up with Kelli brain-damaged or dead, they would be deprived of their mother. But they are neurotypical children who will probably manage fine in the neurotypical world. And since Kelli is such a questionable mother, it’s probably no great loss. In any event their safety doesn’t matter as much as respecting their sister’s beautiful, authentic autistic self.

    I hate to sound unsympathetic to Kelli, but if the prospect of living the rest of her life this way led her to suicidal despair, well that’s not Issy’s fault. Kelli should have just taken her own life and left the job of human punching bag to Issy’s father and siblings.

    • I am sorry, but are you insane?!?! Did you really just say that Kelli *owed* it to her daughter to “spend the rest of her life in exacting servitude to Issy’s need for routine (and getting punched in the head when she failed)” And that her other two children would be just fine if their mother died, because they were “neurotypical”?!?! This blog post has some good points, and shows another side to a tragedy, but you have managed to make me fear for anyone that is close to someone who has autism. Because, according to you, their parents deserve violence for not doing everything right! Scratch that, I am only scared for the people that are in *your* life.

  7. Grr! Such parents are NOT ignorant! The know precisely what they are doing – with the darkest malice, and utmost treachery! We know why they do all of their hatred and abuse and evil! They have told us by projecting all of these thing onto us:

    “as you sow, so shall you reap; and with the measure you have used, it will be measurd out unto you, Normies.”

  8. It really hurts me when I see parents of autistic kids complain about them endlessly. The children deserve so much better than to be treated like a burden and an annoyance, and it is horrific when they are dehumanized to the point where people believe their lives aren’t worth living.
    As the mother of three autistic children, I do also see the other side of it though. Autism does seem to be the one health/behavioral condition parents are not allowed to admit makes parenting more difficult. Parents raising children with bipolar, schizophrenia, cerebral palsy, or literally any other condition are allowed to talk about their struggles without people believing it makes them bad parents or be accused of hating their kids, but not parents of autistic kids. I’ve had to face the agonizing choice of whether to seek medical treatment for my baby after my older autistic child bit her so hard she ripped huge chunks of flesh or stay home and prevent a visit from CPS. Because who would believe a child would be capable of causing such injuries? But parents and siblings of autistic children get injurirs like that very frequently. It’s just the reality of autism, and parents of NT children don’t have to face struggles like that. It really is hard to bear the brunt of autistic agggression and meltdowns day in and day out. And I think that’s all parents of autistic people are trying to say, that they need help coping with a situation that simply much harder than other parents’.

  9. I am thinking the autistic community in there actions/reactions towards this has screwed them even more so . I am an aspersion, not an autistic, I admit I was diagnoses with some things that could be deemed autistic but that does not mean I am me autistic and I could cite other insightful examples to prove my point. As the case with my people, so do thoughtful autistics have the capability of over reacting to things with out giving them a first thought over first. Autistic people have triggers that when pushed IMO, they can not stay in tuned to reality or what is supposed to be real it y. Like my people, they have a life on there on. Mine are able to come out however they may so choice, but autistic have a problem with doing so. It is this weakness that people will always put hem sown. There is the capability of the autistic community to accept positive things more often that the negative things they are going thru. I myself advocate positive things only and I will go on record as saying there is this one person who has put me down for doing so. This person thinks I am doing a disservice to people , so I so check out what reality is really like for I have heard from a fiend that this person is dillusional. In other words, he keeps his possy next to his side at all times to alway defend his thoughts. To get off my high horse , i wish all disabled people the best of luck.

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