Deconstructing the self-righteous – when parents try to kill their children

deconstructI keep seeing some disturbing responses to the Kelli Stapleton case and I thought I’d address a couple of them today… a sort of, let’s clear the air, type of post.

Without wasting too much time, let’s get right into it.

Copycat Crimes

In a recent statement from ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network), they condemned Dr. Phil’s interviews with Kelli Stapleton stating “We see a pattern of copycat crimes whenever there is a well-publicized case of a parent murdering, or attempting to murder, their disabled child … Dr. Phil had an opportunity to shut down this cycle of violence, and instead he chose to perpetuate it, as loudly and widely as possible.

I have long seen many people get adamantly upset any time anything to do with autism is portrayed negatively in the media. Whether it’s adults that still behave as children, needing parenting for life or children behaving violently, no matter the situation, if it “makes us look bad”, the media is the bad guy.

I wonder though, where were these people when mothers were murdering their children that didn’t have autism? How come no one screamed about the risk of copycat crimes when these mothers killed their children?

I don’t know if you noticed or not but those stories are from 2014 alone and that’s not nearly all of them. Where’s the outrage? Why is there no one calling for the end of the journalists that reported these stories?

In our efforts to protect children with autism, do we now not care about any child that doesn’t?

There are more of these murders every year than there are months on the calendar but one murder attempt on a child with autism in the last year and suddenly we fear copycat crimes? No, we fear our own public image being damaged, nothing more.

The truth is that media attention is good. Whether your stance is that there should be more services (this will convince people of that) or if your stance is that she’s a monster for trying to kill her child (this will convince people of that too), media attention is not what leads to another tragedy like this, doing nothing is.

We must focus on figuring out how to prevent all of these stories from ever happening again. And crossing our fingers and hoping that no one becomes a copycat is simply not going to do it.

How can anyone sit there, in their big self righteous chair, and claim that a “copycat crime” is our biggest concern? How can anyone honestly sit there and try to tell me that the last mother to attempt to murder their own child did it only because they saw someone else do it on the news and thought “hey, I can do that!”

No, either

  • A – they are totally out of their minds, in which case, it was just going to happen no matter what or
  • B – they hit rock bottom and saw no other way out and don’t care in the slightest what any other mother has ever done. They just don’t.

Copycat crimes are not what this is about. It never was.

If you’re really worried about this happening again, let’s talk about real ways to prevent this from ever happening again.

Which leads me to…

Murder is never OK

I keep hearing this and as a statement on it’s own, I agree. However, this statement is a precursor to the rest of the intended message which is “now is not the time to discuss a lack of services or support or funding.”

I have one simple question then, when is the right time? During the lull between the last attempted murder and the next one? Or after the next one? Or the one after that? Do we look around and go “What? Too soon?”

Let me put it another way, if we never get around to discussing how we can lend help to the next parent that is reaching the end of their rope, for what ever reason, are we partially to blame? Well, no, I suppose not since “murder is never OK”, right? We can wash our hands of all blame.

I’ve seen it go even further than that. I’ve witnessed good people be verbally and brutally torn apart for so much as suggesting that they think events could have played out differently if the support had been there. I’ve seen people be accused of the most horrid and vile things simply for suggesting that they have it rough too and understand how someone could reach the point of murder/suicide.

Now, let me be clear, no one ever said they condone it or would ever do it themselves. They only said that they’ve been depressed and felt helpless and felt alone and felt abandoned and they understand what that murderous mother felt. Not that they’d do it too, but that they take the time for understanding… that they have shared a similar experience at least in leading up to the crime.

When a mother (or father) comes to you saying how hard they have it, how difficult their lives are, how no one is there to help, how no one seems to care, how there is no money, how there are no services… and when they say that they understand how hard it must have been for the last mother that was in the news, if you take that as an opportunity to beat that parent down with your words, to bully and chastise, to degrade and humiliate and to dehumanize that parent with all of your might…

What do you do when the parent you bully is the next parent you read about in the news? What do you do when you realize that you pushed them to it?

You do NOT get to throw your hands in the air and say “don’t blame me, murder is never OK.” No, you are not without guilt here. You are in fact a part of the problem. In fact, you’re worse than the lack of support, you’re the opposite of support. And if that mother that you’re beating on is the next one we read about in a headline, I will never ever forgive you. I will never ever let anyone forget what you had done and I will never ever stop reminding you of exactly who is to blame.

You know what? You’re right, murder is never OK. But that doesn’t mean we forsake our humanity and it certainly doesn’t give you a right to forsake yours.

Yes. A parent that tries to kill their child is a monster. And you’re right, murder is never OK. On that, we’ve never disagreed. It’s what comes next that you need to figure out with the rest of us.

Now, either learn to start helping people that need help or get the hell out of the way of the people that will.

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The most important lesson that I had to teach to the adults just as much as the children

Communication UnderstandingDuring my time running Autcraft, I found myself constantly teaching people things. I taught children how to work together, how to be a friend, how to play the game, how to deal with bullies and so much more. I also found myself teaching adults as well. How to play the game mostly but also how to cope with troubling behaviours, how to extend their patience level and even how to switch a system which focuses on punishments to one that focuses on positive reinforcement.

The biggest thing though, the number one thing that I found myself constantly having to teach, reteach, remind and reinforce over and over and over again was, what I feel, the number one single most determining factor in the success of the server… communication.

When a player (child or adult) did something wrong such as swear, lash out, destroy someone’s property or quite literally anything else, it was my job to talk to them. Communicate.

I needed to find out why they did what they did, what they were thinking in doing it, what they hoped to accomplish and if they understood why it wasn’t ok. I had to explain why it’s not allowed and how it affects others around them. I had to reach an understanding. Communication.

Time and time again though, I’d have to remind the adults on the server of the same thing. The parents, the autistic adults, the SrHelpers and even the other admins. When patience levels would dwindle, when a behaviour became a repetitive situation… the desire to even try and communicate would grow less and less. But it was always crucial. It was always imperative.

Only through understanding the motives, the thought process and the intentions would we truly be able to understand the person and only then could we explain why it was wrong, or misguided or not appropriate.

Nine times out of ten, once we could see from their point of view, we could understand how they came to behave in the way that they did. And when that happens, a mutual respect is achieved. A bond is formed. You get them, they get you and they feel more comfortable with you as you actually take the time to “get them.”

This offers benefits for both parties. The person trusts you more and is more inclined to open up to you and come to you next time as they’re no longer afraid that they’ll just get in trouble and they know that you’ll take the time to understand them next time too and likewise, you yourself gain greater insight into why people do what they do, you learn to put aside your judgments and assumptions and you learn to keep calm and use your kindness and compassion to get to the truth.

Most problems I encountered were built on a foundation of assumptions, jumping to conclusions or simply not taking the time to understand, or worse, not caring too.

As people learned to take the time to talk, not just talk but to communication with the intention of understanding, everything just ran better and better. Players played together better. Staff managed the place better. Players felt more comfortable and open to approaching us.

Above all else, communicate. Take the time to understand. It’s not just a lesson for the children, it’s not just a lesson for the players, it’s also a lesson that many adults, parents and even the staff have had to learn… myself including. It’s also not just something you learn but something you get better at over time.

If you can take the time to do this, and keep doing it, all other pieces just fall into place.

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I am no longer with Autcraft

AutismFather AutcraftLet me start out by saying that there is no drama, no behind the scenes reasons, nothing that must have happened to set me off to do this… this is something that I’ve been planning and working towards for a while now.

Autcraft started as I watched more and more parents with children on the autism spectrum reach out to other parents hoping to find friends to play Minecraft with. Why were they looking for other parents? Well, their children first tried playing on regular servers like most other children but because they had autism, because they struggled with the social aspect of the multiplayer experience, they were bullied repeatedly everywhere they went. So these parents turned to each other hoping that their children could play together where they’d be free of such bullies.

Only it wasn’t that easy. Sure they could find each other but there was still nowhere to actually play together. In order to do that, they’d have to both go to a server and as their experience had shown, there were no safe servers. I realized that I could help.

Autcraft was born almost a year and a half ago.

Now here we are with nearly 5000 people on the whitelist. To put that in perspective, that is more people than the entire population of the town in which my kids go to school. That’s amazing! In a way, it’s sad because to me that signifies quite clearly just how bad the bullying problem truly is. On the other hand, it’s remarkable that there are so many great people that can all relate to each other and lift each other up.

From the very first day back on June 23, 2013, the demand and the pressures placed on me were much larger than I had anticipated. Hundreds of emails rolled in immediately. As celebrities visited, as people wrote about us, as the news picked us up… that only made the demand and pressure grow even more. In time, that demand grew even more as people started to come to me with their problems. Fights with others, bullies, depression, problems with parents… even suicide. I never said ‘no’ when someone needed me. I never turned anyone away.

I had lost count how many times I had to say “I can’t right now” when my own children would ask me to come play with them. I had lost count of how many times I had to tell my boss that I had to go because someone needed me on the server and that I’d finish my projects a little later.

I woke up to dozens of emails, dozens of messages on our website, hundreds of Skype messages…. every single day. Each of them a problem. Small problems, big problems, trivial and truly significant problems… all of them, adding up more and more each day.

I never said ‘no’.

Now, I’m not saying it was a thankless job, quite the opposite. I was praised. I was called a “rock star.” People recognized me all over the Internet and said the nicest things. However, that too, comes at a price. The more people that knew me, the more there were people who needed to doubt me, who needed to believe I couldn’t possibly be who I was. People who had to hate me either because I was too nice or because they refused to believe it.

Even some of the children that I had talked out of suicide several times would find themselves doubting me, throwing away all I had done for them the moment anyone anywhere said anything negative about me. I don’t hold it against them, I truly don’t.

Over time, all of this, all of it and more, grew bigger and bigger.

Now, I’m fine with it. All of it. Wait, almost all of it.

I have a good job, I have great kids. And I’ve been putting them on hold for Autcraft.

The kids that Autcraft helps… they are absolutely incredible and they are worth the demands and pressures and the time. But I have to put my children and myself first. I just have to.

So I worked hard to build up a reliable team, a strong team, a supportive team that can help the children, help the server, build like pros, get those children through anything and just do all the things that I did and more without me having to be there. And now, Autcraft has that team. They truly are amazing.

Now it’s time to let it go. It’s time to wake up without having to respond to hundreds of messages. It’s time to go to bed at bed time. It’s time to go and play with my children when they ask me to.

I will miss the server fully and completely. I miss it with all of my heart. But I have to let it go. 100%. Anything less would draw me back in. I can’t say ‘no’ to someone that needs me. I can’t turn away from people that need my help.

So I need to leave Autcraft. I need to leave it in capable hands. I need to take care of myself now.

Thank you for entrusting me with your most valuable treasures, your children.

But it’s time for me to say good-bye.

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“Reversing autism” and why you’re not

not_reversing_autismA news story hit my social media feed called “Could Early Intervention Reverse Autism?” and I just had to sign into my blog and start typing. I see this term all over the place… “reversing autism.” It accompanies it’s not so distant cousin “recovering from autism.”

First and foremost, let me just say I am not a doctor, scientist, geneticist nor can I see the future. That being said… no. You have not reversed autism.

Let’s just forget for a moment that autism is not a truck that you can simply throw into reverse and back up, there are countless studies out now about brain activity, wave patterns, synapse connections, brain size and more out there indicating just how different the brain of a person with autism functions in comparison to those without autism. Temple Grandin famously flashed her cerebral cortex on stage to the world.

Sitting down and teaching a child how to say “please” and “thank you” did not reverse any of that.

The fact is that teaching a child in a method that is more unique, one on one and specific to the individual person is going to get better results than tossing a child into a room with a bunch of other children and told to hope for the best.

A child that goes from a parent that knows nothing about autism except that it exists, to a trained, certified and experienced autism therapist is simply going to do better. Do better.

I put do better in bold because doing better is a very distinctly different from “reversing autism.” By teaching a child to say please when they ask for something, have you just altered their genetic make up, brain activity or fundamental core structure? I think not. But you’ve taught them to be kind. That’s nice.

To put it another way, stand up comedians spend years and years in small bars perfecting their routines, their delivery, timing and everything else. That doesn’t mean they are “reversing unfunny.” They were not funny, now they are. They didn’t reverse anything. They got better.

Musicians start out learning what notes are, they mess up scales during practice. They learn how to put chords together. Eventually, they make real music. They didn’t reverse anything. They got better.

Reversing autism is a very misleading term. It’s also a hurtful one. I’m an adult with Aspergers. I learned how to socialize despite hating it, I learned to get people to like me even though I didn’t want to be with them at the time. But nothing about me was reversed. I did better.

That’s a bit of a slap in my face and the face of anyone that works hard to make real progress. To think you can just remove something and presto, they’re a better human being. No, it was hard work, a lot of dedication, real effort. It still is! To strip that all away and say “oh, this is just how you are once we reverse autism” is a real shot to the heart when no, that’s not true at all.

Nothing went backwards in my head. It went forward. I adapted, I learned, I grew. Children do that. Especially with the proper guidance and trained professionals to help them do so.

Stop making it sound like you’re reversing a fever or a rash or an infection or cancer… you’re not.

You’re helping someone do better.

Let that be your headline because that is something to truly be proud of.

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In search of monsters

So the autism community is up in arms once again, divided down the middle and taking shots at one another. Kellie Stapleton faced a judge one year to the day that she tried to kill herself and her daughter Issy and plead “not guilty” to first-degree child abuse.

The earthquake was felt through out the entire autism community.

Finding Monsters

Like a Disney movie, when a tragedy falls upon the land, your first instinct is to identify the monster. Who is the evil villain this time?

Many people point to the obvious, Kelli Stapleton. The one who tried to take 2 lives, one that was not hers to decide to take. People petitioned for the maximum penalties, some petitioned to have it declared a “hate crime” in order to increase those maximum penalties.  Most people just voiced their opinions on social media.

Meanwhile others pointed to yet another monster, the causes leading up to Stapleton’s actions. Lack of services, lack of support, lack of aide, lack of funding… all the ways in which the systems failed Stapleton and pushed her to commit such terrible acts.

I think it’s fair to say that Ms. Stapelton definitely was a monster. Was she a monster before that day? Is she still a monster after? I don’t know. Was she a monster in that moment? Yes, yes she was. Or I should say, I believe she was. I don’t doubt that she may even agree with that.

Is it fair to say that all those systems that were supposed to help but didn’t are also monsters? Well, they didn’t commit any crimes and, in fact, I’m sure they did their best with what they had. But still, there can be monsters buried in good intentions. A good person refusing to do a good thing is it’s own very special kind of monster.

But there is more to consider than that. There are more monsters in the closet.

The abuse – Being beaten is traumatic. Whether it’s from a stranger, a loved one, intention, unintentional… there is no good way to hurt so bad that you end up in the hospital. This takes a toll on you. Does this make Issy (her daughter) the monster? No, clearly not. She had no self control. But the abuse… the action itself… the constant pain and fear and stress… that is a monster that many people can not live with.

Those who refuse to address the lack of services – These people are so deeply ingrained in the train of thought that Ms. Stapleton is the monster that they refuse to even consider any other monsters. That there was something clearly wrong with her it didn’t matter if she had received services or wasn’t abused or had a much simpler life.

Those who refuse to hold Stapleton accountable – I have not yet met a person that condones what she did but I have met a great many who think that the courts should go easy on her. In fact, that was the basis of her plea was that she had basically been abused and let down and stressed so bad that she was clinically insane when she committed those terrible acts. Many people agree with this and in so doing, feel that her punishment should not be as severe as it would be otherwise.

Not the right question

As The Doctor would say, you’re not asking the right question. The monster isn’t what is important here. Being able to point and say “there’s your monster!!!” changes absolutely nothing.

No, the real question is, how do we prevent this from happening again? ever!

Minority Report – Let’s say we could analyze people’s lives and maybe even be psychic for a day, would it be fair to identify people that have the ability to do such a thing? To find the monsters before they can be monsters? Even if it was fair, could we? Is there such a method that can recognize what a person will do after having a complete mental breakdown? Is there some method to identify the likely ways in which people will handle going from sane to insane in an instant due to PTSD?  I bet even if psychics were real, even they wouldn’t be able to know that.

Precedent – To be honest, I am kind of just making this one up as I see absolutely no other reason to call her a monster, label what she did a hate crime and then lock her away forever. I just don’t see the point of this except to maybe set a precedent such that if anyone else does this, they’d get the same treatment. While this sort of approach might stop a sane, understanding and logically thinking individual, I don’t see it having much of an impact on someone that snaps so completely that they try to kill their own child out of love. I mean, if she had known that the last mom that tried this was locked away forever, would it really have stopped her from trying?

Support – This seems the most logical and while I say “simple”, I know that it truly is anything but. Funding must increase, accommodations must be made. A person can not continue to take the beatings and the disappointments and the rejections for years and years and years all without ever getting any help from the people that keep saying “maybe next time.”

Monster Prevention

I am not professionally capable of determining whether or not Ms. Stapleton is or is not a monster or was or wasn’t a monster. I’m not professionally capable of fixing the insufficient funding nor service/support system deficiencies around the world. I am also not professionally capable of even guessing much less making any attempts to dictate how the law is going to proceed with all of this.

I feel that it’s very important to make you aware of this fact but even more so, myself. And those of you who make statements in social media or in comments or in blogs as if you were professionally capable of doing these things really should take a moment to make yourself aware of these facts as well. You’re not.

What I do know, however, is that whether anyone is ever convinced that they’re looking for monsters in the right places or the wrong places, the real questions we need to be focusing on, the real place we need to start looking for answers is… monster prevention.

How do we stop this from happening? How do we recognize the signs that this could happen? How do we stop it if it is in the process of happening? How do we not only save lives but make it so that those lives never need saving?

These are the questions that need answering. These are far more important things to know than who is or isn’t a monster.

I will leave you with one final thought… to anyone who doesn’t want to discuss these questions or find these answers, anyone that silences or censors others, anyone who wants revenge rather than justice, anyone that wants satisfaction rather than redemption, anyone that is attempting to shut down others who actively seek out ways to stop these tragedies from happening in the future… mirrors are a good place to find monsters.

Monsters in your head

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