Thursday, August 12, 2010


Lately it seems like every day my Google news alert, set to alert of any items involving “autism,” brings me a new story of an autistic child or adult whose life was snuffed out. The exact mechanism changes from case to case, but the root cause remains the same. The victim died, in large part, because he or she was autistic.

Often the victim slips unseen into a pond or pool due to an insatiable fascination with water. Or maybe the victim wanders off during a hike or camping trip. Sometimes, the victim just slips away.

Too often, we are finding out that a parent succumbs to whatever demons are inside of them, and they perpetrate a homicide. Other times, a homicide is committed by a professional caretaker. Our kids make easy targets; many lack an innate sense of danger.

A new site, maintained by parents of children on the spectrum, has sprung up to remember those victims. It’s called Lives Lost to Autism. It’s simply a posting of news items. There is no commentary to condemn any individual; that’s the job of the legal system. Comments by readers are not allowed, so there is no distracting political debate. The focus is squarely on the victims. This site is “autism awareness” in its most basic form.

Some time ago, in the wake of Katie McCarron’s death at the hands of her mother, some bloggers ⎯ including yours truly ⎯ were taken to task for something we weren’t saying. In essence, some thought we should have loudly decried the murder of an innocent, and condemn those who questioned whether the stress of raising an autistic child played into the killing.

My response at that time was that I was unprepared to label something as a “murder” (a word with a specific legal meaning) when the facts had not yet been adjudicated in court. I later commented when the jury meted out a measure of justice, and defined the action as a mnurder.

Frankly, my initial reluctance to discuss the case was also due to my complete inability to comprehend the actions of any parent who would take the life of his or her child. Unfortunately, there have been too many opportunities to try and understand those kinds of things since then. I still can’t comprehend it, but I can join in trying to honor the lives of the victims. Hopefully, if enough attention is drawn to the seriousness of this growing problem and enough people start caring, maybe someone in power will feel pressured enough to do something. A single web site can’t accomplish all that, but it’s a start.

Ironically, the first criticism of Lives Lost to Autism has come from the same person who led the criticism of our prior silence. Kevin Leitch argues that the new site goes about the task badly, because to “politicize it so graphically and so ham-fistedly is wrong.”

“Politicize” the issue?!? Really?!? The whole point of not inserting the poster’s commentary is to keep the focus on the victims without making them symbols for a political agenda.

But Kev says that the use of the phrases, “lives lost to autism,” and “lives cut short by autism” make it sound like autism itself is being blamed for murder. The site says that nowhere. Murder, by definition, is the act of a person or persons. The fact that a victim is autistic is most assuredly not a justification for homicide. Not all of the deaths listed at Lives Lost to Autism, however, are homicides. Moreover, one cannot ignore, however, that these victims died because they were autistic.

Kev’s real problem is not with the site or the way it’s been set up. His real problem is that his hypocrisy is showing. When Karen McCarron, who had been identified as being a member of the “cure” community, killed her daughter, Kev and the other members of The Autism Hub devoted an untold number of posts to the incident and its aftermath. Doing so was not in itself wrong; in fact memorializing a victim is a good thing to do. In doing so, however, the labeling of the incident as a “murder” before all the facts were known, and more to the point, taking others to task for not following the same course, was exactly what Kev now accuses the people behind Lives Lost to Autism of. They politicized a tragedy in a ham-fisted manner.

There have been far too many other incidents in which autistic children have been killed by their parents since the McCarron tragedy. To be sure, there have been a few mentions of those incidents by various members of The Hub. For the most part, however, the silence has been deafening. The only distinguishing characteristic between the McCarron murder and the other cases is that the accused perpetrators have no connection to the cure community. That deprives Kev from pointing a finger at those who would have the temerity to want to remove a disability, and say, “see, they are so hung up by what their children are that they don’t see their humanity.”

Not seeing the humanity of a child is not a function of believing that the process of cure or recovery can improve a child’s life. As I have often said, I accept my son just as he is, but I do not accept the inevitability of his current disability.

At the end of the day, Lives Lost to Autism is not about curing autistic children. It’s not against “celebrating diversity.” It’s about reminding a nation and the world that there is a cost for allowing this epidemic to get to this point. There is a cost for our government, our medical establishment, the media, and society itself turning its collective back on the problem and pretending it doesn’t exist. And the cost for society’s criminal indifference is all-too-human.


After the above was posted, Ginger, who originated Lives Lost to Autism, posted her own explanation for the need. Go check it out here.