Saturday, October 25, 2014

Gratitude for the Participants of the #IamNOTkellistapleton Flashblog

To all those who participated, read, shared, and related to the #IamNOTkellistapleton #WalkinIssysShoes Flashblog, our great appreciation.

Together, we are changing the conversation about Autistic and disabled abuse and murder. From victim blaming to justice for the victims, hard work was accomplished both to defend Issy Stapleton and others like her, and to stop the hateful mindset that leads too many parents and caregivers to harm Autistic people.

We are not Kelli Stapleton.

We walk in Issy's Shoes.

Click on the photo below to watch the video from Newschannel 3, CBS News, WWMT, West Michigan about the Flashblog.

"Autism support groups hoping Stapleton case changes conversation"
Picture of a news anchor, looking into the camera, in front of a blue background. To the right of him is a graphic reading "NEW TONIGHT Stapleton Sentence National Attention" and a logo for Newschannel 3.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Saint Amanda martyr?

Saint Amanda martyr? from Amanda Mills

For the Iamnotkellistapleton flashblog.

This is likely my last  post about Issy Stapleton unless there are new developments and something more needs said.

When I was younger, around 18-19 years old,  I didn’t believe in grey.  Everything was black and white. Everything was either right, or it was wrong. It was good or it was evil. People who didn’t acknowledge just must be confused, or lazy.

In the last twenty years I’ve learned that nearly everything is grey, and really complicated. There are rarely simple answers especially when it comes to human relationships.

Late into those twenty years,  I earned my Bachelors Degree.

One thing I focused study on was family systems theory.  There are many different factors that affect each family, each member of that family and the individual relationships of members in that family in different ways. No single family is identical to another and each individual member of that family experiences family life differently.

There is no typical family.

People say autism is family/marriage ruining. They say that, because it is easier to look for a simple answer to “What went wrong?” than acknowledge its not that simple, or to acknowledge fault.

When an autistic child acts out aggressively its easier to blame the autistic child, or the autism as if its some sort of separate evil entity  than taking a close look at everyone involved and examining the environment and the people in it to see what factors are at play.

If a person  judges, others, or demonizes one person or one thing (idea, practice, set of people) it takes away responsibility for change. People will happily believe black and white, angel and demon, good and evil. Often we  don’t even make a conscious decision to do it, its merely a behavior pattern that works for us.

It is better to look at the facts and factors of each individual case.

It has been suggested that as a mother of autistic children I should understand and empathize with Miss Stapleton’s mother, because I must know, I must understand what autism puts us through.



I am not Kelli Stapleton.

I cannot relate to Kelli.

Let’s look at the facts shall we?
  • Kelli had supports and services for Issy that I never have.
I don’t think supports or therapy are half as important as love, and care. I do not believe in endless therapy that encourages “normal” behavior at the cost of individuality.
  • Kelli blamed autism for her daughter’s aggression and their poor relationship. It’s easier than taking a closer look at her own behavior or considering whether a change in their family environment, was needed.
I do not look for scapegoats.  I try to understand and learn because although over half of this household is autistic, myself included, I understand that we’re all different, and parenting is never easy. I also know its important to look after my own mental health.
  • Kelli posted in words, picture, and videos the  intimate details of her daughter’s life, putting her daughter in the worst possible light. She portrayed herself as martyr and victim.
Saint Amanda martyr I am not, and you won’t find me violating the kids’ privacy in that manner.  Whether or not too much is online, and how exactly to share our lives without oversharing about them is constantly on my mind. I also know that this  martyr/warrior attitude is unhealthy mentally in the long run, both for a parent’s mental health but also for their child. It is unhealthy for how the child perceives themselves and their relationship with their parent.
  • Kelli attempted to murder her child.
That is not ever going to happen.

As grey as the world has become, some things are still wrong.  Trying to murder someone is still wrong. Abusing someone, is still wrong.  Blaming a victim of abuse and attempted murder is still wrong. It is not understandable to me.
  • In sentencing Kelli’s lawyer also  blamed her mental illness for this behavior.
As someone with PTSD and the anxiety and constant low level depression it brings, I find that pretty damn insulting. 

No, I am not her, and I cannot relate.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

You are NOT entitled to a "normal" child

I have always felt that if one decides to have or work with children, it is an honor.  You get the PRIVELEGE of having and/or working with that child or group of children.  You don't get to pick and choose, and you are most certainly not ENTITLED to a particular child.

Therefore, I am disturbed by the trend of certain parents who post online about how they want a "normal" child, and then proceed to provide very personal and intimate details of their children's disabilities, all the while complaining about how difficult said children make their lives.

I recently wrote a blog post about an autistic girl named Isabelle "Issy" Stapleton.  Her mother (unsuccessfully, I'm glad to say) attempted to suffocate her to death in the family van.  Before that, the mother wrote a series of hateful tweets about Issy, including that she wanted a normal child and that she wished she could get a "morning after" pill.

Just the other day, I read about a little boy named Dylan Kelly, who was born with multiple health conditions.  The beginning of the article describes how he loves to come home from school and chase his sister around the house.  Sounds like a happy child, right? Yet his parents state they wish they had had an abortion.

That's right.  The parents say they love him, but wish they hadn't had him.  They had another baby, because they wanted a "normal' child.  They have spent several years engaged in legal action against the hospital where he was born.  I get that having a child with medical problems can be incredibly difficult, but perhaps the parents could have spent this time reaching out to the community for financial and moral support.

When I read about cases like this, all I can think about is how horrible it must be to be those children, to have to know that your parents don't want you and wish you had never been born.  I wish I could take these children and find loving families for them.

Then, of course, there are the people who are always ready to jump to the defense of these parents.  "Walk in their shoes before you judge them," cry the apologists.  I say: Walk in Issy's shoes.  Walk in Dylan's shoes.  Walk in the shoes of every child that has been unwanted.  Walk in the shoes of every child that has been abused by their parent.  THEN come back to me and talk about the shoes of the parent.

You are NOT entitled to a normal child.

This post originally published at:  The Cats Are In Charge.

Issy Stapleton and a Compassionate Response to Violence from Thraen Thraen

Issy Stapleton and a Compassionate Response to Violence

Trigger warnings for ableism, murder, mention of suicide, victim-blaming, and probably other things. (Let me know if I missed something.)
I have been thinking a lot about Issy Stapleton (here is an article, but note that it comes with a trigger warning for victim-blaming and murderer-sympathising)—and about Alex Spourdalakis, Jaelen and Faith Edge, Randle Barrow, Mickey Liposchok, George Hodgins, Daniel Corby, Katherine McCarron, and so many others. The autism_memorial livejournalhas over 180 separate accounts of murder (or, in a few cases, reported suicide) of autistic individuals—mostly by family members, caregivers, and even police. Even that list is an understatement. Crimes so often go unreported or misreported, or when they are reported (accurately), they may never have enough media coverage for the autistic community and our allies to find out. 
Of course I’m sad. Of course I’m mad. Of course there is a very angry, very hurt part of me that just wants to run around screaming and breaking things until this finally stops, until murdering your child (or anyone, but especially someone in your care) is never okay, never justified. I’ve taken so long with this post because I don’t know how to think about this without feeling a blinding rage or overwhelming sadness or both. This sucks.
Kelli Stapleton made a disgusting, inexcusable choice. Nothing justifies attempting to murder your child, okay? Lack of support services for families (and I will just point out that the Stapletons had access to an abundance of support services) does not justify murder. Autism does not justify murder. Nothing ever, ever, ever can justify or excuse this. We shouldn’t even have to talk about this. 
I have a choice, too, and I have been thinking a lot about it over the past few weeks. While the news hurts, while it makes me feel furious and frustrated and desperate and powerless, I have a choice in how I respond and in what I write here. I am not powerless, and wecan change the conversation. In fact,we absolutely must change the conversation.
The first thing we must do is stop othering autistic people and others with disabilities. We need to value and prioritise their (our) voices and experiences. Spend some time listening to (or reading) the voices of autistic people. You could start with these:
On the subject of prioritising autistic voices, I am just going to link you to an excellent masterpost on why Autism Speaks is awful and must not be allowed to speak for autistic people. The tl;dr is that Autism Speaks perpetuates violence against autistic people both directly (see: the bit about the Judge Rotenberg Center) and indirectly (see: their constant messaging of autistic people as “burdens” and so on), and uses money that could be spent on support services and advocacy and instead spends it on eugenics research. Support organisations led and run by autistic people instead, such as the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and the Autism Women’s Network.
And when we talk about voices, we have to talk about intersectionality and diversity. We have to talk about how the “face” of autism is always white, often male and middle-class when the reality is autistic people come in all races, ethnicities, classes, genders, sexualities, and so on. You might, for example, check out a blog likeQueerability, which focuses on the intersection of the LGBTQ+ and disabled communities. Imagine people, including autistic people, complexly.
Once you’ve gotten a bit of a grasp on the complexity and nuance inherent in our community, it’s time to start educating those around you. Share the voices you find. Push back against stereotypes (even if they seem like “positive” stereotypes—”idiot savant” isn’t a compliment, and it devalues and erases autistic people who don’t fit that “ideal”) whenever you hear someone repeat them. Stand up to any suggestion that violence against a vulnerable population is justified.
And, bloody hell, if you are a parent (or caregiver) and the thought crosses your mind that things might be better if you killed your child (or person in your care), get help NOW. Please stop what you are doing and get help immediately. Call 911 (or the equivalent in your country). Before you reach a point of crisis, get connected with other parents and caregivers for support, such asParenting Autistic Children with Love & Acceptance. And if someone is in any way justifying violence against your child, cut that toxicity out of your and your child’s life. 
The compassionate response to violence is not to side with the perpetuator of violence, nor is it to simply punish the perpetuator (although I am not arguing against punishment for Kelli Stapleton). Compassion goes further: it offers healing and safety to victims, and it fights to end the cycle of violence. We have a choice in how we respond, and if we are to choose compassion (which I certainly hope we will), we must do more with our pain. We must work toward a world without violence and where people like Issy Stapleton feel safe, loved, and valued. 
It’s been a tough few weeks trying to sort through all of my emotions about this, but somewhere, buried beneath all of my anger and frustration and sadness and rage and nausea and fear, I have just the tiniest bit of hope. A different world is possible. I need you to help me make it possible. Educate yourself. Educate your friends. Change the conversation.

(This post can also be found on the Thraen Thraen tumblr here.)

First do no harm from On the Train With Sophie

First do no harm
When the call went out for submissions to the #IamNotKelliStapleton flashblog, I almost decided not to participate. The Kelli Stapleton case has polarized the autism community (even more than it was already) and shattered any fragile peace that existed prior between autistic advocates and their supporters and some (vocal) parents of autistic children. I remained quiet through the initial incident and the first shockwave. I didn't comment on the trial and the infamous dr. Phil interview. I restrained myself when a blogger suggested "we are all Kelli Stapleton". However when I read this article last night, it pushed me over the edge. Those parents who have supported and even identified with Kelli Stapleton up to this point surely cannot now- following an objective, mainstream-targeted, third-party piece of writing, not skewed towards the point of view of autistic advocates (in fact containing some very ablist views, but we've come to expect these from the media sadly) and yet despite all its shortcomings, the image of the character that emerges by the end cannot be viewed as sympathetic. If someone reads it and still thinks that they could be Kelli Stapleton, they should seek some counselling I would suggest.
What has struck me about this case since the beginning is the obvious physical similarity between the victim Issy and my Sophie. Sophie could be Issy in ten years- a cherubic round-faced girl with pale blue eyes and blond curls. Sophie was also diagnosed at 2, following a regression as our readers know. Yes Sophie could be Issy except for one thing. Yup you guessed it; I am not Kelli Stapleton.
How am I so sure I am not, do you ask? Let's start right in the beginning, or at the diagnosis. When Issy was diagnosed at 2, her mother (quotes from the article linked above):
tracked down a child psychiatrist in Michigan and essentially dedicated all of her waking hours to the Issy- project.
All of her waking hours. That's a lot of hours. Remember, Issy was two at the time. How does one go about "curing" one's child of autism with ABA?
From the minute Issy woke up until she went to bed, Kelli subjected her minor routines to rigid control: Kelli would say, "Touch your nose," and when Issy did it she gave her a little prize. If Issy wanted something, she had to look Kelli in the eye to get it. Sometimes Kelli had to make the same request ten or 20 times in a day, because an autistic child finds it hard to tune in or follow instructions or make eye contact, much less do it all day. By the end, she’d be pleading, desperate, "Dear God. Touch your nose! Your whole future depends on this!"
All of her waking hours.

Yes, I can confidently say I am not Kelli Stapleton. I feel my risk of becoming anything close to her is very low, comparable to my risk of becoming say, Temple Grandin. Or Obama. Or anybody else who is not me really. In fact since my blog was started exactly two years ago and about two months after Sophie received her diagnosis, I can quote myself directly as to what I felt as we were in the early stages and considering ABA (which we eventually agreed not to pursue). From this post (the second post on this blog):
we do wonder if we really want her to be drilled for 40 hours a week, rewarded with a tidbit of food for each socially appropriate gesture she is able to replicate. Perhaps in this case the waiting list is a blessing, buying her some more time to just "be", regardless how unproductive her just being is seen as through the prism of ABA.
I wonder if Kelli Stapleton ever took the time for a similar reflection or whether the objective of "recovering" Issy overshadowed any other concerns for the toddler's well-being.
Aside from the fact that I think it's wrong (yes I said that. I don't feel disagreeing with the type of treatment Issy received all of her waking hours is just a difference of opinion. I think it is a wrong thing to do to your child and fellow human being), I will tell you something else. I am absolutely certain that if we subjected Sophie to this type of "therapy" she would lash out physically. And could I blame her? If someone is constantly "in your face" micromanaging your every movement and decision, does that person not become an oppressor, an abuser? Would you not despise them and foam with rage at the mere sight of them?
I don't doubt the fact that Issy was aggressive. Unfortunately I cannot say how she would turn out if she was not raised by a narcissistic mother who never accepted her as she was. It is very possible that she would be prone to hitting when frustrated, perhaps biting. It is impossible to say for sure however, because she was not raised in a home where she could be herself and learn to manage her emotions in a loving and accepting environment. She was singled out and punished for her disability, separated from her siblings to endure the therapy that continually sent her the message that she was not enough.
For three years, she became Issy’s full-time teacher, enrolling her other two kids in day care and sending them, on evenings and weekends, to the houses of relatives.
All of her waking hours.

How am I not Kelli Stapleton? When I wanted to engage Sophie I did the opposite. We include Sophie in everything we do as a family. We avoid separating our kids during family time without a very good reason. We constantly brainstorm which activities would be most suitable to all our family members, who are all of different ages, ability levels and at varying developmental stages. It is difficult sometimes but not impossible. Why do we "bother"? Because we are a family. We all matter.
How am I not Kelli Stapleton? Because when I realized that Sophie's autism was "here to stay" I knew that I had a choice to make. I could mourn, cry and pine for the child I thought I wanted. Or I could embrace the child I was given and learn to be the kind of parent she needed. From this post:
First thought that came to me- I am sad about the "would-be's". She would have been a cute little chatterbox, would have loved animals, would have played with her brother and sister, would have gone to the nursery school her sister attended, would have play dates with the little girls her age on our street... And I realized- it's not about Sophie. It's about me. All those "would have's" have meaning only because I attached meaning to them. Based on my interests and desires I have formed an image of a cherubic little toddler I would have expected Sophie to be- but it isn't Sophie. If I was a different sort of mom I'd be mourning the loss of a would-be ballerina or a would-be soccer player or a would-be artist. Sophie isn't mourning the loss of those dreams because they were never hers to begin with. As parents we fantasize about what our children will grow up to be. It seldom comes to pass as children pave their own reality (as they should). Yet, when their reality falls outside of what we consider desirable, we reject it, or fight it (it's not just about autism, in some families it could be going against the family profession, or marrying the wrong person, or being the wrong sexual orientation).
Now, I believe if a part of us is still mourning the loss of the child that's "buried under the autism" then that can lead down a destructive path. I've heard people yell at autism, swear at autism, banish autism out of their lives. That goes with the presumption that autism is sort of like a growth that is fused to the typical child's brain and that, with proper handling can be removed, leaving the perfectly intact brain exposed. I choose to see that autism is as much of Sophie's identity as her blue eyes, her infectious grin or her funky hair. You can't excise it from her and uncover a neurotypical Sophie which was hiding there all along. If I claim to love her, I can't make qualifying statements like "I love my child but I don't love her autism". It's like telling me "I love you but I don't like your introvertness" , or "I love you but not your green eyes". I have to think and say "I love you, all of you, exactly as you are".
You might wonder why I chose to focus on Issy's early years and not on that fateful day last September. I happen to believe that Issy didn't stand a chance well before her mom planned and attempted to end her life. Way before she chose to record her sardonic observations on social media. Issy's fate was sealed as soon as her mother realized that her child is different than she expected and she refused to make peace with it.
I am not Kelli Stapleton. Regardless where our journey takes us, regardless what obstacles we will need to overcome, Sophie and I will do it, together. There will be reflections on this blog. There will be thoughtful idea-seeking. There will probably be admissions of wrong-doing. But you will not read snarky comments directed at my daughter or her neurology, those who share it, the problems that aren't hers to be burdened with or intimate information that should be private. This is her story, recorded with love by her mom and her biggest fan. I will be honoured if she chooses to read it one day.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Things To Fight #IamNotKelliStapleton

Image: Pink text reads:  Things to Fight:  Ableism, injustice, hate, oppression, discrimination, fear, inequality, bigotry, prejudice, stimga  White text reads Change the world, NOT your child. #IamNotKelliStapleton #WalkInIssysShoes

What kind of society do we live in?

Image description: Dark purple/black background. Light pink text reads: "What kind of society do we live in when children are demonized for not having the tools they need to communicate, and abusers are held up as examples of loving and caring parents for the ultimate act of aggression against their child? #justiceforissy

Services are no Excuse: #WalkInIssysShoes


 Image Description: Background is a textured exterior wall. Text reads: If you claim that lack of services for murderers is to blame for tragedies like filicide, perhaps you should focus on getting those services instead of attacking the victims.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Issy Stapleton from Suburp

I do not know the girl I am thinking of today. Her name is Isabelle Stapleton, known as “Izzy” or “Issy”. You probably know what happened.
When your child is diagnosed with autism, you start scanning the internet for information, for connection, and if it is your medium, blogs of parents in similar situations to relate, to connect, maybe for answers, maybe just for the feeling not to be alone. I have come across very different kinds of blogs and one reason I am still hesitant to fully document my own son’s journey online, is the protection of his privacy and the feeling that while a more popular blog might bring ME the feeling of recognition and community, it might not be, in the end, in his best interest. And my son’s interest always comes first.
Today, I feel sick because a mother whose blog posts I have read, whose blog many of other bloggers have read, has committed what in my eyes is one of the worst acts a person can commit in their lifetime. She attempted to kill her own child.
So I see the first media reports and blog posts talking about “this brave woman who fought tooth and nail” and her “genuine love” for her daughter . I read “even the strongest fall” and “safe haven laws” and respite possibilities are simply not covering the desperation of autism parents in the US. And maybe this is all true.
But, as a parent AND as a person who has been in a situation where I seriously considered suicide as the only way out, then, briefly, murder, yes murder – of my adult abuser – I cannot feel empathy for the woman who is recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning while her daughter is still in a coma with the possibility of permanent brain damage.
There is no excuse. When I first came across blog posts on the strange media attitude that surrounded the horrible deaths of children with disabilities, I felt bewildered and was with those who said “murder is murder”.  Although the struggles of severe autism seem so much harder than my son’s, I felt nothing could ever justify the murder by violence, medication or severe neglect. Nothing.
When I first read one of the long, fierce and somewhat confusing blog posts on “The Status Woe” , I had felt uncomfortable. What made others join @TeamIssy, help raise funds for therapy days and celebrate the mother as a warrior, had overwhelmed me as too public, too wordsy, too intense and too much about the mother’s fight. No, I read not much of it. It seemed unstable, scattered. It scared me. For Isabelle. *)
Anyone who has a child with autism and who is not too caught up in the ‘fight’ or more occupied with finding a “cure”, will have found that our own attitude, our own anxiety, stress levels and ability to cope are major factors in the behaviour of our child. No, I am not saying that autism parents are causing their children’s outbursts or aggression but they are contributing to them, when they can’t cope, be it “out of love”, be it by lack of resources, be it their intense personality.
It is very obvious to me that the public fight of Isabelle’s mother was an expression of her panic and inability to cope, and the many people who supported her, and still support her now, in the end, have not been able to protect Issy from her own mother. Her mother who was clearly NOT one of “the strongest”.  She was weak before the fall.
Psychologists will make better sense of it, but for me, those who talk about “co-dependency” and “psychosis” today are closest to the truth.
I am not throwing stones at the whole family, I do not pray, but my thoughts are with them, are with Issy. Issy. I cannot even remotely imagine how the realisation what her mother did will feel. I  have no answer to the questions that are raised by these cases. I do not claim to be a better person, or a better parent than the mother who committed the act. Some of us, in life, have come to a point where the idea of death seemed a pretty good prospect to just get away from it all, whatever it is. I do not condemn suicide as cowardly or a sin.
But never ever, in no circumstances, has a parent the right to take this decision for their child, as dire the situation may seem to them.
You have the right to give up, to be weak, to break down. Hell, abandon your child if you cannot cope. You do not have the right to take your child’s life. Never.
*) I found the first post from Feb I read. I commented with links to Anonymous as the mother felt she needed to go MORE public with a video of one of Issy’s outbreaks. I recommended her to opt for a more anonymous presence online.
I now remember being put off by the aggressive attitude of both the mother and many of her supporters immediately after that.
(This post can also be found on the Suburp blog here.)

the cost of non-compliance is unreasonable

In January, I wrote a post about the cost of compliance training.  The unforgivable price that our children pay when forced to be compliant.
It turns out, that the cost of non-compliance is also unreasonable– unconscionable.  Well, it was for Issy Stapleton.  Her mother, Kelli, attempted to kill her last week.
I’ve been reading Kelli’s blog.  Listening to an interview.  And reading comments left by those who allegedly worked in the Stapleton home as service providers to Issy.
If you’re reading this.  You’ve seen the videos.  The first one was little more than Kelli running around hysterically crying–I’m not going to comment on that.  But about this video, I have much to say.  Especially after watching it in context on her blog.  Particularly this part
Carly, Issy’s behaviorist, was there to make sure I said and did the right things. Basically, I just had to give her tokens for having ‘quite hands and feet’ and redirect her when she started perseverating(you know, getting stuck) on certain topics.                  
We walked into the classroom.  Issy was so happy to see me (and I her!).  I told her I was there to be her worker.  I sat down next to her and started to work on a coloring page.  Issy started perseverating, I redirected.  She got physical…
I found it very striking that the video started with Issy’s physical reaction.  We see from Kelli’s words that a few things happened.  Mainly Issy was non-compliant.  Was she reacting to being told that her own mother was her “worker”?  Being coerced into having “quiet hands and feet”?  What does it look like when Kelli says, “I redirected.”
Autistic adults routinely rail against the inhumanity of being told to have quiet hands and feet.  Being forced to be still when their bodies need to move.  Many suffer PTSD–partially from “quiet hands and feet.”
I’m morbidly curious about the perseverating and subsequent redirection.  It is suspicious that this part of the video was edited out.  I suspect that it was a physical violation of Issy’s bodily autonomy or the threat of such violation.
The video, itself, does not lead me to believe that this is an inherently violent child.  I see a child who is outnumbered by adults and has no escape route.  I see her cornered and lashing out.  After I see adults overpowering her and restraining her, I see her physical reactions escalate.
I believe, at the very core of my being, that Issy had been subjected to abusive and aversive interventions for years.  Therapies which violated her person and punished her for non-compliance.  By Kelli’s own admission in this interview, she suspected that Issy’s physical reactions were related to ABA therapy.  This is in response to the interviewers question about who the violence was directed towards.
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.
Anyone who is familiar with the Lovaas ABA model, knows that Lovaas relied heavily upon aversives and punitive corrections to undesired behaviors–including failure to make eye contact and stimming.  A mere mention of Lovaas will trigger many of my Autistic friends.  We are talking strict, by the book, old school ABA.  I have many problems with ABA as it is commonly practiced, but the Lovaas model is truly reprehensible.  It is unquestionably abusive.
Issy was subjected to this for ten–ish(?) years at the time of this video according to her mother.  I have no doubt, that Kelli was right.  That this was one of the things at the root of Issi’s physical reactions.  Especially since the reactions were mainly directed at her mother until about a year prior to this interview (according to Kelli).  Since Kelli, was Issi’s “worker”, this makes sense.
Further, there have been multiple allegations of Kelli’s abuse towards her children, levied by individuals who apparently worked in the Stapleton home.  Normally, I wouldn’t put a lot of store in internet comments.  But these feel markedly credible when those commenting are providing contact info for coming forward with information.
To those care givers who would help be Issy’s voice and get justice for what was done to her please contact D/SGT House with the State police post (231) 775-6040. Several past caregivers have stepped forward and already given statements on Issy’s behalf. We need everyone to step up and help Issy.
On an earlier post I posted a number for ex-caregivers who wanted to help issy. I typed the number wrong it D/SGT Travis House (231)779-6040 he would like to speak to any caregivers. Some of us care givers have already given statements on Issy’s behalf.
Kelli regularly used hateful and abusive language on her blog to describe her daughter to the world.  If this is what she puts out to the world, I can only imagine what she kept hidden.  And according to many of the comments on this news piece, she attempted to keep much hidden.
I’m sure that we will never know exactly what went down in the Stapleton household.  But nothing that I’ve read, heard, or seen leads me to the conclusion that Issy is inherently violent.  Nothing.  I believe that Issy has always been the only victim.
We’ve seen the writing.  We know she was subjected to Lovaas style ABA which is widely criticized for being punitive and for employing aversives.  This is abusive.  We’ve seen some heavy allegations of abuse which are, apparently, being investigated.
We’ve hear the story of a child, who easily overpowered her mother.  Yet, somehow, Kelli was able to contain Issy in their family van while she attempted to exterminate her daughter with carbon monoxide poisoning.  Am I the only person with whom this does not jive?
I don’t believe that Issy was violent.  I believe that she had physical reactions to the abuse she suffered for being non-compliant.  I believe that Issy almost paid the ultimate price for her non-compliance when her mother tried to kill her.
The cost of compliance is unreasonable.  The cost of non-compliance can be even more unreasonable.
(This post can also be found on the Love Explosions blog here.)

I Respect My Children; I Am Not Kelli Stapleton

When I first found out that I was pregnant with a child, I was 20 years old. I was terrified. I did not know what to do. I hadn’t finished university, I didn’t have a house of my own. I didn’t have savings in the bank.  I got very sick, I vomited every day. I was a long term vegan but I decided to eat meat because I was worried my baby was not getting enough nutrients to grow. I felt very sad about eating meat, but I thought it was right. I respected my child.

When my baby was born, she needed me. All the time. She needed to be with me, and didn’t want to be with others. She wanted to stay with me, so she stayed in her sling. She didn’t want to sleep alone, so she slept in my room with me. She didn’t like crowded places, so we didn’t go to them. I respected my child.

When my son was born, he didn’t like loud places either. We still didn’t go to them. He didn’t want to go in the sling. He sweated and cried and overheated. So I kept him cool (which seemed cold to me) and I responded to his discomfort. I listened to, and honoured, his cues. I respected my child.

When my third child was very young, my family became homeless. My partner was dismissed from his job for having the audacity to aim for a university education instead of continuing to clean bins for a living. He was expelled for this dream with contempt. His ex-boss then told the national welfare department that he had quit. We were left without an income, and now without access to welfare assistance. My family offered to host us in their home. My mother was abusive, treated children disrespectfully, and made fun of disabilities. I declined the offer and we stayed instead at a caravan park temporarily. The children loved the playground there, and the ducks in the swamp. They dug in the sand and drew fog on the shower mirrors. I respected my children.

When my fourth child was born, I was a very busy mama. Whenever I felt angry or overwhelmed, I worked on my reactions. I learned ways to calm down. I kept my children safe and I loved them. I never raised a hand to any of them. I didn't tower over them, yelling, as I remembered so vividly my own mother doing to me. Because I respected my children.

As my children had been growing, I had compiled long mental lists of areas in which they struggled or needed assistance. I marvelled at their unusual ways of thinking and formulating games. I knew they were different to most. I learned about autism through intense library research, and I opened my heart and mind to this idea. Because I respected my children.

I began to speak to others about autism and my belief that my children were autistic. Many laughed at me. Most told me to “move away from Doctor Google”. Plenty asked me “Why do you want to label them?” Almost all grimaced and shushed me condescendingly. Doctors and Child Health Nurses told me, “Love, go to a parenting class instead of reaching for money”. I ignored them all. Because I respected my children.

When my children approached school age, I thought long and hard about this place that I had always assumed my children would attend. I thought of their specific skill sets, and I imagined them in a school setting. I  decided to home school and my children never set foot in class.  They enjoyed being at home. I respected my children.

My partner had been studying toward his university degree and working. I felt like the children needed more of me than I could give. We reconsidered his work so that we could help them. He quit and our income was hugely reduced. My partner and I stayed home with our children. My partner and I often went hungry. The children thrived. Because I respected my children.
We made a conscious choice to keep Behaviourist ideas out of our home. We decided our home would be free of punishments. We threw away the Parenting Rule Book that was so familiar and easy to us. We fumbled. We kept trying. We believed this was best for our children even though it was hard. Because we respected our children.

I cut contact with my family after years of abuse. They threatened and raged, slandered and lied, and cried crocodile tears. I stayed away, and my children did too. My children would not know the dysfunction that was so normal to me. They would not feel the constant shame that abuse brings. I respected my children.

By the time my baby (my fourth child) was about 1 year old, I had grown sick of the broken promises of the public system for autism help and information. So we moved to a 2 bedroom home, full of mice and cockroaches, with holes in the floors and cigarette butts in the yard. It was cheap and we'd have spare money each week. This would mean that my children could receive their diagnoses. That would provide them with services and therapies! Early Intervention! We cleaned up mouse shit and dead mice, caught cockroaches in jars and relocated them, threw out curtains filled with the stench of cigarette smoke, patched holes, picked up cigarette butts and glass bottles from the yard, and cleaned inside cupboards that made me gag. My children laughed and flapped when they saw our new house. Now we wouldn't be hungry, and we could pay for the childrens’ diagnoses. I respected my children.

When my children began to fight, I talked to them and kept the peace with kindness. I respected my children.

When my children finally received their autism diagnoses, we were given access to $12 000 each child each year, for 2 years. We were given access to respite, in-home therapy, equipment, behavioural training, and ABA service providers. We looked at the options and we thought “these services don’t seem right.” And we declined that funding. All of it. A total of $96 000 for my children, for whatever services I wished for. Because I respected my children.

My partner struggled, all this time. He had struggled all his life. He had been abused and mistreated, and had lived in an unstable, drug and alcohol-affected family. He got help. He spoke openly about his pain and started taking medication to be a better father. His PTSD, Bi Polar, Depression, and Anxiety, are still there. But he got help. Because he respected his children.

We borrowed books, we attended courses, we went to conferences, we listened in at seminars, we read blogs, we listened to autistic people. We raised our hands and stammered out questions. We asked self-advocates questions that revealed our ignorance, but that helped to reduce it. We filled our heads with autism information and opinions and science. Because we respected our children.

When professionals spoke to us with that tone of voice that says "I am teacher, you are student and you WILL do as I recommend", we took what they said away with us, and we thought about it. We did not take anything unquestioningly. Because we respected our children.

As my children age, they seem more and more noticeably autistic. I love them and I love their autism. I accept my children as they are. I am happy that I have them, just as they are. I respect my children.

I feel sick when I read about parents putting their autistic children into invasive therapies. I feel sick when I hear adults laughing about hitting children. I feel sick when I am attacked online, abuse hurled at me, because I want acceptance for my children and because I want disabled people to be afforded the right to speak for themselves. I feel sick when people talk of prenatal tests in order to abort autistic children before birth. But I keep talking. I don’t shut up, even though many wish I would. Because I respect my children and I want a safe future for them.

When I first read about Kelli Stapleton, when I heard how she constantly invaded her daughter Issy’s privacy with blog posts, tweets, and videos – I was angry. When I saw the “therapy” Issy was subjected to for years, I was angry. When I heard that Kelli had tried to kill Issy, I was angry. When I read about Kelli blaming the crime on “having a violent child”, I was angry.  I was angry for Issy. Issy is autistic and Kelli did not respect her. This is an unquestionable fact. You just don’t try to murder people you respect.

When I read a blog post stating that we are all Kelli Stapleton, all just one crisis away from murder and disrespect of our precious children – I didn’t agree. I have been mulling over that opinion ever since. I still don’t agree. Not at all. I will never murder my children. I will never even come close. I will never consider it. I will never plan it. I will never take that path. The thought makes me want to vomit. Because I respect my children.

I am NOT, and WILL NEVER BE, Kelli Stapleton. Because I respect my children.

And because you don’t try to murder people you respect.

Don’t anyone try to fucking tell me that we are all Kelli Stapleton. You don’t have the right. Anyone who respects their children or child, could NEVER be her.

I respect my children.
By Ally Grace
(This post can also be found on the Suburban Autistics blog here.)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Litany Against Fear/Litany for Love

Litany Against Fear/Litany for Love

I must not fear.
Every time I have these conversations, the ones that devolve into hate, I remember: I am moved by love.
Fear is the mind-killer.
They are afraid and fear is turning to anger and anger is turning to hate, but I can be fierce with love for their kids, for Autistics present, past, future.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
Standing strong in the face of the wall of dehumanizing hatred is an act of love. My love for my community is my shield and my strength, and it is tempered by ice and by fire.
I will face my fear.
I will stand with love. I am standing for love.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me. 
This is for their children. This is for those who I will know in the future. Who I love without having met yet. For those I know now, and love with such ferocity there are not words for it.
The anger and hate hurts, but it will not break me.

And when it has gone past me I will turn to see its path. 
Change is coming. Change has started and more will come, like a wave or a landslide or even a waterfall.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing...
Our efforts, our love, is not in vain. The children and adults we are fighting for will feel the ripples from our work, even if we never meet them.
Only I will remain.
At the end of the day, love will prevail.
Fierce, ferocious, fiery, protective, strong, squishy, gentle, love.

(With thanks to Frank Herbert for the Litany Against Fear used here.)

This post can also be found on the Radical Neurodivergence blog here.

Sometimes, the Law is Not Enough

Kelli Stapleton was a wife and mother living in Benzie County, Michigan. For some time, she had been blogging about her and her daughter’s lives and her fight to obtain services for Isabelle, called Issy, on her blog, The Status Woe (google it, I refuse to give it any more hits). On it, she went into detail about the treatment Issy was subjected to, ABA (Applied Behavioral Therapy, which is essentially “normalization”) and other Lovaasian therapies being the primary cornerstones of the treatment plan. She also allegedly debated more “creative” therapies – such as buying a shock collar, intended for dogs, to use on her daughter.
On Sept. 3, 2013, Stapleton took her 14-year old nonverbal daughter into the family van. She brought two gas grills and put them in the van, and turned them on. Her alleged intent was to kill herself and her daughter via carbon monoxide poisoning. Both survived, though Issy was hospitalized for a long time afterward with alleged brain damage.
Kelli was arrested and charged with attempted murder.
Today, almost exactly a year to the day after the crime, Kelli pled guilty to first degree child abuse. Not attempted murder, but child abuse. Judge James Batzer will sentence her.
I am an autistic adult, and a licensed attorney. I am originally from Michigan.
This case hits me in a very visceral way.
I am going to try and explain why the legal stuff happened the way it did. Inasmuch as I can read the mind of a prosecutor who thinks that a plea bargain for attempted murder is okay.  Most people in autistic circles are uncomfortably familiar with the facts of the case (hence my very brief recap of the relevant facts). But a lot of people are not attorneys. And believe it or not, there’s one tiny good thing about this plea bargain. In amidst all the bad things.
Kelli was allowed to plead guilty to Class A first-degree child abuse. Child abuse is defined in the Michigan Penal Code as “knowingly or intentionally caus[ing] serious physical or serious mental harm to a child.” Serious physical harm is defined as “any physical injury to a child that seriously impairs the child’s health or physical well-being” and it specifically includes internal injury and poisoning. Legally, the cause of action is solid. Let me make that clear. Kelli knowingly caused serious physical harm to Issy – she is of average intelligence and there is nothing in any court record I can find to indicate that she was mentally impaired enough to think that carbon monoxide would not cause injury.
Kelli had been arrested for the crime of attempted murder. The Michigan Penal Code is much less wordy about attempted murder. In its entirety, the relevant section of code says: “Any person who shall attempt to commit the crime of murder by poisoning, drowning, or strangling another person, or by any means not constituting the crime of assault with intent to murder, shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for life or any term of years.”
Image description: A pair of wire-rimmed, gold-colored glasses on a deep blue backround, lying next to a charm which bears the scales of justice.
Image description: A pair of wire-rimmed, gold-colored glasses on a deep blue backround, lying next to a charm which bears the scales of justice.
The maximum sentence for both attempted murder and first-degree child abuse is life in prison. However, and this is the thing that scares me the most – there is no real mandatory minimum. Some states have a set-in-stone mandatory minimum amount of time that must be served upon conviction of any specific crime. Michigan has recommended minimums, but there is a lot of precedent for ignoring them. Indeed, the trend in Michigan right now is to drop mandatory minimums – in 2003 they were jettisoned for some federal crimes completely, and even now people are agitating for greater flexibility in federal sentencing guidelines.
There are several reasons why I am very afraid that Kelli will be sentenced to a term far closer to the minimum than the max.
  • The presiding judge is the 19th Judicial Circuit Court’s chief judge, the Hon. James M. Batzer. Batzer is 70 years old, having served on the bench for nearly thirty years. However, he is unable to serve any longer – there is a rule which bars those over 70 from running for new terms, though they can complete their current term if they turn 70 during that time. That means that whether he decides to throw the book at her or let her go after a year, there is no backlash that can hurt him. He has no career to lose and no political allies to please. This could turn out to be a pleasant surprise, but it’s just too hard to tell. Batzer has a tough record on killers (his best known case is probably that of Mark and Florence Unger, where the husband was convicted of letting his wife drown after she fell into Lake Michigan), but none of the killers he has ever sentenced before has had a neuroatypical victim, as far as I can divine, and attempted murder cases simply aren’t covered as much as murders. 
  • Media attention. No judge is immune, and it doesn’t help that a hack Beverly Hills psychologist named Carole Lieberman has been yapping about the case. She was quoted in an Associated Press story about the sentencing, stating that Kelli “has been living in a war zone” and was legally insane when she committed the crime. Lieberman, however, has a middling-to-low rating on HealthGrades, and describes herself as a “TV/radio host and speaker” before she mentions psychiatry. I’d be willing to bet she wouldn’t know legal insanity from her elbow. In Michigan, legal insanity is defined as “lack[ing] substantial capacity either to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his or her conduct, or i[inability] to conform his or her conduct to the requirements of the law.” In other words, did you know your actions were wrong? You bet Kelli did.
  • Michigan sentencing guidelines. Holy hell, they are complex, involving point scoring and grids – but the upshot is that the sentencing guidelines state that Class A first degree child abuse can result in a term up to life – but depending on the judge’s discretion and the sentencing guidelines, she could be out in as little as four years. Yes, four years. If you do the math after going through the grids and the categories, you get a figure between 75 and 115 points – depending on whether you think Kelli deliberately intended to kill Issy, and did so with premeditation. If you think she didn’t, she gets 75 points, which is a minimum of 4 1/4 years. If you think she did, she gets 115 points, which means a minimum of 15 years. (Big warning for math in that link.) It might confuse you if you look at the chart, but since Kelli has no prior convictions of any kind (at least, not that I’ve been able to find), the box that tells us what her sentence could be are the bottom left three (depending on whether you think she committed the crime with premeditation). For example, if you think the crime was not premeditated, you’d use the fourth box in the first row. The recommended minimum is 51 months – four and 1/4 years, but could be up to 85 – seven years. If you think the crime was premeditated, you’d use the bottom box on the left. The recommended minimum there would be 108 months (9 years), and could be up to 18-0 (15 years). It’s important to notice that these are minimums, not maximums.
    • TL;DR – depending on whether or not you think the crime was premeditated, the minimum sentence she could get is 4 1/4 years, and the max is life. My gut says the sentence will likely fall somewhere around 15 years. And no, that’s nowhere near enough.
  • The usual anti-autistic hatred. And yes, it is hatred. The complete lack of give-a-crap evinced by the attorneys on both sides. The hateful comments on articles that betray a complete and utter lack of understanding and sympathy for Issy and other autistics. All the defense has to do to get Kelli a light sentence is to portray Issy as an animalistic monster – which shouldn’t be hard, given the way she’s described by some of these experts. The main issue seems to be the beliefs, in tandem, that (1) nonverbal means noncommunicative in any respect, and (2) that an autistic raging means nothing – that there’s no rhyme or reason to it. Both of them are completely and utterly wrong.
However, all of this is in the hands of Judge Batzer. There will be no jury, no trial. No expert testimony. Because Sara Swanson, the prosecuting attorney, saw fit to take a plea.
There are times when a plea bargain is appropriate. This, in my personal and professional opinion, is not one of those times. Attempted murder of a child should never be pled out. Ever. News outlets have said that Kelli “wanted to save her family the stress of a trial” and while I don’t know if that’s the case, I would never take that plea as a professional. Never mind as an autistic. I don’t know how Swanson will be able to live with the possibility that Kelli will get out and want to be in Issy’s life again. Because she just might.
Oh, right. One good thing about this plea-bargain.
Benzie County, Michigan is extremely rural and conservative, with populations identifying asCatholic, Evangelical Lutheran, and even some Mormon adherents. The most well-represented occupation is cleaning/building maintenance. The total population is around 18,000. Those who don’t normally live there are rich vacationers (it’s right next to Traverse City, which is a popular vacation spot). In short, you have blue-collar and white-collar conservatives – most of whom likely only know autism either from the media, or from throwing money at “afflicted” relatives to make them “normal.” Getting a jury with the slightest understanding of Issy’s life would have been an absolute nightmare.
As an attorney, I’m required to be impartial and calm, as well as not give any kind of specific legal advice. I have not given any specific legal advice here. And I am calm. But there’s no way I can be impartial. I’m sick over the idea that my profession will not protect people like Issy as well as it should. I feel as though I’ve let her down, as silly as that might be. I want to do better. I want us to do better.
For a while I wasn’t sure why I was so angry about the plea-bargain – the penalty for first-degree child abuse is actually more severe in Kelli’s case than it would be for attempted murder; it’s not like she was going to be acquitted, and it’s not like she was going to get life – come on, I’m not that optimistic. But I realized that I was furious, just downright livid, that Issy wouldn’t get her day in court. That no one would hear the gory details of just what Kelli tried to do to her own flesh and blood, the daughter she ought to have protected but instead tried to “make normal.” Yes, we got Kelli’s soppy, self-serving recounting, complete with tears and references to “going to Jesus” (that link makes me sick to my stomach, but I include it in the interests of being thorough). But we didn’t get Issy’s side. We didn’t get how terrifying and awful it must have been. Even in pleading guilty, Kelli kept control. Issy didn’t get a say. Even on her way to prison, Kelli kept Issy from having a voice. (That level of manipulation, domination and control is indicative of what used to be called sociopathy.) And I will never forgive that evil, narcissistic woman for that. Ever. I do believe there is evil in the world. 
I’m just praying to whatever G-d may be there, or whatever fate controls the universe, that Judge Batzer does the right thing. 
By Cara
(This post can also be found on The Fool on the Hill blog here.)