19 Apr

Four days ago, a mother and her autistic son died after jumping into the River Ouse.

One dark figure is seen leaping from the walkway into the River Ouse, near Hull, followed eight seconds later by the second person. Ryan’s (12) body was recovered from the river on Sunday. Alison (40), who was suffering from depression and worried that her son was being bullied, is still missing and presumed dead.


I’m very conflicted about this story. About what this mother did.

On one hand we cannot pretend that what she did to her son was anything other than murder. It wasn’t an accident. She left a note saying she intended harm to herself and her son. A lot of the news stories that have surfaced after this event are written from an angle very sympathetic to the mother. They are accompanied by feature pieces detailing the ‘horror’ of autism and the ‘hopelessness’. One could almost come away from reading these stories believing this was a mercy killing.

It wasn’t. It was murder. If Ryan had not been autistic then the stories would have been a lot less sympathetic.

On the other hand, its quite clear that this mother was clinically depressed. She was alone seemingly without support. Depression is an awful, crippling mental illness and lots of people succumb to suicide whilst in its grip.

In this case we have to ask – where was the support for this family? Where we social services? Where were the LEA? Where was _society_ ? I don’t believe that depression is something that someone can hide or mask so well as to disguise suicidal or homicidal feelings. Why did no one alert social services?

This is all of our fault. Society has an obligation to support its members. We failed this ill mother and we definitely failed her murdered son.

Part of the reason is the utter ignorance that surrounds autism. I know I was totally ignorant about autism at one time. I felt like I had failed my child. I felt like it was the end of my world. I felt like the future for her was empty.

But I’m not clinically depressed. As a family we were able to (thankfully) move past these feelings and move into a place where we could move forward with acceptance and start to benefit our child. If someone is clinically depressed its understandable how one could never get past that stage if they have no help.

So what do we do? We need to start challenging negativity about autism. We have to start talking about its positivity as well as its sometime negativity. We have to start listening to people who know what they are talking about. We have to start supporting parents better with accurate information rather than informing them that their child’s future is a silent shell like existence followed by institutionalisation as soon as they become adults.

Please listen to autistic people talk about autism. Please discuss all options with new parents. Please point them to good resources. Please stop instilling despair in them.

49 Responses to “Conflicted”

  1. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) April 19, 2006 at 11:19 #


    I read about that not long ago…

    You always make a good job in this blog, and you come up with some excellent themes for discussion. On this occasion, you haven’t done this. You’ve gone past that.

    You have brought to the fore one of the very few things that autistic people actually *suffer* from: the whole negativity that surrounds our diagnoses, and how we are perceived by society and by professions (the evidence of which we see in many threads on this – and other – blog(s).

    I agree entirely. It was no mercy killing: it was murder. But in addition, it was a behavioural result of the way that sociopolitical systems behave in how they reorganise themselves… with very little reference to the people for who we are told that they exist: me, you, your daughter, mine; and this poor poor woman and her son.

    And society as a whole (me included) have indeed failed her nd him. Just as others in society failed me and my mother. And the list goes on… failures of society all the way. Not that the people were failures themselves, but that society at large was the party which failed. Wth its prejudices, its very self-serving values which rarely allow for difference (look at JBJr for a classic example of intolerance).

    For my part, I can only do my best: the other week, a lad in Helsinki was in his last weeks at school, and was needing serious support in order to do well enough to be able to get the job he’d like to hold down. I was asked to assess him, and so I did this. Clear case: Asperger syndrome. And he was seen by another psychologist (clinical neuro; I’m applied educational) who read my report on the lad, and concurred entirely with what I wrote. (And there’s JBJr stating clearly that I and my ilk don’t do a blind bit of good to anyone who is autistic… that’s on less kid going to go through late adolescence feeling as lost and neglected as *I* myself used to feel.

    Even the act of keeping a blog such as this, and maintaining a reasonable degree of freedom of expression (JBJr nothwithstanding), so that people can actually come in and talk about the very things this mother obviously needed to talk about herself, with regard to her own child.

    Blame is very easy to apportion (and it would not be wrong to do so); even harder is to get society to accept what *it* does that is wrong and detrimental to its members. Harder still… getting it to change its ways.

    My feelings are mixed on this mother: in a sense, that lad was me a good few years back. And his mum was my mum a good few years back. And we were also let down. And even with things in place ostensibly to avoid this type of tragedy, which were not there when I was a boy, society and sociopolitical structures have managed to create (by their insistences on sticking to protocols and practice guidelines) yet another fucking mess of some peoples’ lives. Well done, society… that’s another fine mess…

    Keving, your last sentences echo my thoughts so well, I needn’t repeat them.

    I can’t help thinking that, if our two most famous war criminals (Bush and Blair; evidence: the UN statement that the military actions against Iraq were unlawful… kinda defines them as criminals, doesn’t it?) had spend about 1% of their war budgets on improving services to families with special needs, then this lad might still be alive now. And that his mother would maybe not have gotten even half as far into a depressed state as she did.

    A sorry state of affairs, Kevin, and I really don’t know what else to say. I just hope that she’s alright: one person dead becuase society can’t take its responsibilities seriously is bad… two makes it exponentially worse.

    Thank you, Kevin.

    I may be too fucked up by this one to comment much, but I shall follow the thread.
    My best to you and yours.


  2. Bronwyn G April 19, 2006 at 12:45 #

    And we in Australia had a similar failure a few years ago with Daniela Dawes.

    It’s wrong that such failures do and continue to go on. I think society does need to be challenged at its roots.

    Why do people think an autistic child is such a harbinger of doom? Whose dreams are being threatened here? What realities cannot people seem to face?

  3. Kev April 19, 2006 at 13:24 #

    _”Why do people think an autistic child is such a harbinger of doom?”_

    This to me is the most important question. If we can find a way to answer that then things like this need not occur.

    Obviously there are issues that go beyond autism in this case (mental illness for example) but the root of the issue is (in my opinion) answering that question.

    Partly – largely in fact – I think the answer lies in education and removal of ignorance. When parents are given the results of their child’s assessment the process is very brusque and impersonal despite or because of the wishes of the people giving the diagnosis.

    In our case we were given a few pamphlets to read. In some places in the UK people don’t even get that. As a society we need to offer more than that.

    We need to start finding ways to bring autistic people themselves into the process. We need to make autism more visible, less of the ‘unknown’. Certain groups need to stop painting everything as a black or white issue. More accuracy is needed.

    The more we talk about something, the less of an unknown that something is. The less of an unknown it is, the less reason there is to be fearful of it.

  4. Amanda April 19, 2006 at 13:53 #

    I don’t think the root of the problem is in how autism is perceived. It’s in how disability is perceived in general. Including as a reason to murder. Autism alone isn’t the issue here, it’s a broader stereotype that autism has been drawn into, that feeds into these ideas. Distancing autism from the stereotype will only help autistic children, nobody else. And assuming that she would not have done the same to a non-autistic child could be dangerous too (there was one case in the UK, in fact, where a disabled child was murdered, the murderer was let go because it could “only” be about disability, and the father went on to murder his non-disabled child as well).

  5. Kev April 19, 2006 at 14:09 #

    _”It’s in how disability is perceived in general”_

    That’s very true.

    _”And assuming that she would not have done the same to a non-autistic child could be dangerous too”_

    Oh absolutely – I think this woman’s mental illness would have dictated the same outcome regardless of (dis)ability. However, the wider point(s) is a) How the media react (in a really worrying ‘its OK cos the victim was Autistic/Rett/Down’s/Spina Bifida/Deaf/whatever’ manner) and b) How society can become more attuned to really _learning_ as oppose to hearing reportage _after_ the tragedy has occurred.

  6. Joseph April 19, 2006 at 16:04 #

    Joel Smith has written about the Murder of Autistics.

    Abuse of autistic children appears to be very common as well, not just from bullies. See Mandell (2005).

  7. Prometheus April 19, 2006 at 17:26 #

    To echo what Amanda has said, there have been reports (mercifully few) of mothers murdering their children – with and without the subsequent suicide of the mother – and the majority of them involve “typical” children.

    What Ryan’s mother did was clearly not rational, nor was it “understandable” (as JB Jr. would probably see it), except to the extent that we “understand” that people in the grips of severe depression will do things that are beyond our understanding.

    Like you, Kev, I see the demonization of autism – and all disabilities – as an ominous aspect of society. It is but a small step from saying “Autism is a fate worse than death.” to advocating euthenasia.

    The eerie similarity between the response to this tragedy and the response to another autism homicide is chilling. Ryan was clearly killed by his depressed mother, but there is an undercurrent of “Well, you can understand why she did it – poor woman was saddled with a child whose life was worse than death.” When Abubakar Tariq Nadama was killed by the recklessly negligent use of EDTA to “cure” his autism, not a few of the responses from the mercury-causes-autism camp had the same sort of undertone – “It’s a tragedy that he had to die, but he’s better off dead than autistic.”

    Now, the EoH group, GR and all the rest of the sick-brain cranks who push nonsense over science will surely cry out that they said no such things – and they didn’t, at least not so directly. But you’ll notice that there was no call for EDTA to be abandoned as a “treatment” for autism, only repeated comparisons between the number of children who died after an ineffective treatment (chelation) and those who have died as a result of the third greatest contribution to human longevity (after clean water and soap) – vaccines.

    This has certainly provided food for thought – at least for those who are capable of thinking outside of the box of dogma and delusion. What can we do to turn around the public perception that disabilities – including autism – are not a “diminished life”, “a less-than life” or “a life not worth living”, but are simply another aspect of life in the human species?


  8. Sue M. April 19, 2006 at 18:18 #

    Prometheus wrote:

    “This has certainly provided food for thought – at least for those who are capable of thinking outside of the box of dogma and delusion”.

    – It may help to indicate who you are speaking about here. I find YOU incapable of thinking outside the box of dogma and delusion :). Also, I heard someone refer to you as a “doctor”. Is this accurate?

  9. Amanda April 19, 2006 at 18:21 #

    I actually, by the way, think that blaming it on “mental illness” is potentially just as demonizing as blaming it on “autism”. Most people designated as “mentally ill” will never do these things. “Mental illness” is often just a word people use to put something incomprehensible in a comprehensible framework.

  10. Amanda April 19, 2006 at 18:25 #

    Oh, and plenty of people who are not considered “mentally ill” will do these things, just to complete the thought there. Plus, generally when things like this are blamed on “mental illness,” the solution becomes involuntary “treatment”, which may make people more likely to do things like this, not less.

    Quite often when a person designated as “mentally ill” commits a violent crime, the call is for more and more laws allowing people to be committed at the first sign of “mental illness”. Meanwhile, the majority of people committing violent crimes are obviously not going to be picked up on because the majority aren’t “mentally ill” in the standard sense of the word. (Unless “mentally ill” just becomes what you use to describe anyone who does certain actions, in which case the definition is utterly circular.)

  11. Kev April 19, 2006 at 18:28 #

    _”Also, I heard someone refer to you as a “doctor”. Is this accurate?”_

    Only you Sue, could find something to fight over in a post like this.

    Where was Prometheus referred to as a Doctor? EoH? It certainly doesn’t say that on his website.

    _”I actually, by the way, think that blaming it on “mental illness” is potentially just as demonizing as blaming it on “autism”. “_

    Again, very true, but I think in this case, warranted. If people were saying ‘mental illness will always lead to murdering kids’ then we’d have a problem but it seems pretty clear in this case that her clinical depression at least contributed to her acts.

  12. Lili April 19, 2006 at 19:02 #

    Yes, this was murder. Murder of a child, followed by the mother immediately imposing capital punishment on herself.

    As a person on the autistic spectrum, a longtime sufferer from severe depression, and the mother of an autistic child, I have compassion for both mother and child here. Yes, she murdered her son. Yes, it was wrong to murder him because he was autistic.

    But rather than pointing the finger at the mother, I see far more fault in a society that would leave her unsupported until she reached the breaking point which resulted in this terrible tragedy. I have been close to that point before, and I can tell you that- as a person with few financial and social resources- the support offered to me and my children has been woefully inadequate.

    My depression has been treated like a weakness, something I should be able to overcome by willpower alone, despite the huge burden of dealing with an autistic child with little or no support or therapy (since I am of low income and have to take what Social Welfare offers me, which isn’t much, and would be an extremely poor fit for my child’s needs anyway). When seeking help for my depression in the past, there have been threats that if I don’t “snap out of it,” my precious child will be taken from me and sent to live with strangers.

    I DO see my own autism and my child’s autism in a mostly positive light, and I don’t want either of us to be cured. But that’s not enough, when I’m dealing with my child’s twentieth tantrum in a day- including repeated violent attacks on my person. I haven’t had ONE SINGLE SOLITARY moment of respite from 24/7 child care since the day my child was born, because I would rather just grin and bear it when the only respite care centre available to us is a pitiful, inadequately staffed hellhole where the accepted policy is to use restraints on an autistic child having a meltdown.

    At this stage I’m doing better, and my depression isn’t so bad. Still, should my depression return, where should I go for help? To the mental health pros who want to drug me and take my child away? To the overburdened health service who will only offer my child inadequate care in inadequate facilities? To friends who haven’t spoken to me in years because they are puzzled by autism and don’t understand why I don’t just spank my daughter for screaming in the grocery store because the florescent lights are causing her physical pain?

    There are no simple answers. It’s easy for you people to sit in judgment of the mother for this tragedy. Obviously she blamed herself, as well, since she didn’t kill her child and then run off to live a happy life in the Bahamas. I pray that if I ever end up in the sort of hell that this mother found herself in, I can somehow find a better solution in a world where nobody is willing to offer me any solutions or choices.

    RIP, Alison and Ryan. You will never be forgotten.

  13. Kev April 19, 2006 at 19:22 #

    _”It’s easy for you people to sit in judgment of the mother for this tragedy”_

    I’m sorry you felt I’ve done this Lili. I was very careful _not_ to place that interpretation on events. The gist of my post was exactly your point – where were the systems to help this family?

  14. anonimouse April 19, 2006 at 19:29 #

    I think there are two separate issues here.

    -A woman murdered her autistic child.
    -Autism (and disability in general) is treated as a “curse”.

    Trying to shoehorn the murderous actions of this woman into a debate about the demonization of autism is inappropriate, IMO. The reality is that there are plenty of parents out there who are clinically depressed and do NOT kill their children, autistic or not. That isn’t to say that depression isn’t a mitigating factor. It very well may be.

    But it’s not an excuse, and I disagree with the notion that it’s the “system’s” fault or “society’s” fault this woman did was she did. Mitigating factor? Maybe. But ultimately people are responsible for their own actions and getting the help they need. The alcoholic is not “failed by society”, for example, when they get behind the wheel of a car and kill someone.

    Seriously depressed people can be very good at hiding their desires for self-harm to their own families, much less outsiders. So the notion that somebody should’ve “seen this coming” doesn’t really pass the smell test.

    Don’t misunderstand – societal demonization of autism undoubtedly a problem. But I think it’s separate from the actions of this woman – unless this woman didn’t have the capacity to appreciate the consequences of her actions. I would suggest (based only on the tiny bits of information I’ve seen on this case) that she probably did.

  15. Elisabeth Clark April 19, 2006 at 19:30 #

    I am a single parent. I have an autistic child. I have also been very depressed (and suicidal), although admittedly not at the same time as being a parent.

    I’m still struggling to see any of those as justification for murder. I also think that Lili makes some very strong points.

    Thanks, Kevin, for the blog entry.

  16. Lili April 19, 2006 at 19:32 #

    Kev, I wasn’t responding to your entry so much as to the comments which assumed that this mother felt “justified” to commit murder because society sees autism as ” a fate worse than death”. I doubt this mother felt any justification at all. She was simply lost, alone, abandoned by society, and made an irrational and unfortunate choice because she could see no more rational options.

  17. Joseph April 19, 2006 at 19:33 #

    Murder is still murder. A large porption of all murders can probably be blamed on society to some extent, and on psychological problems. This doesn’t mean that murder can be justified under these circumstances, or that most of the blame should not go to the perpetrator.

    This is all related to the pseudoscience called ‘insanity defense’.

  18. Sue M. April 19, 2006 at 19:35 #

    Kev wrote:

    “Only you Sue, could find something to fight over in a post like this.

    Where was Prometheus referred to as a Doctor? EoH? It certainly doesn’t say that on his website”.

    – And only you, Kev, could get so upset about an innocent question without knowing the facts. The fact is, there was a reference to Prometheus being a doctor on Orac’s blog. It was from Maria (scroll down to the bottom of the post to see):

    From your outrage, I can assume that he is not a doctor. No one corrected her or commented more on it so I figured that I would ask. Don’t blow a blood vessel over it. Geez.

    You should also know by now, that doctors can be as dumb as doornails in my opinion (as can the average person) so I wouldn’t give Prometheus any more or less credit if he is a doctor than if he is an average Joe in this debate.

    One last hint: 99.9% of the posters on EoH don’t give a rat’s ass about Prometheus, Orac, Diva or Kev Leitch for that matter… don’t flatter yourself.

  19. Amanda April 19, 2006 at 19:43 #

    Agreed, Joseph.

    I also know that public sympathy with parents in these instances has been shown to increase the likelihood of parents seeing murdering their children (particularly their disabled children) as a way out.

    The fact that my parents could, if they were not who they are (which is people who would not do this), fly across the country, kill me, and probably get sympathy for their actions, doesn’t set well with me at all. No matter how few resources any of us have.

    But my personal safety (if not from my particular parents, from other caregivers, and I’ve already experienced attempted murder at the hands of caregivers), as well as the personal safety of all others like me, is put at risk every time this public sympathy occurs, every time the decision to murder is seen as somehow not the murderer’s responsibility, or even just less the murderer’s responsibility than society’s.

    If anyone thinks I “sit in judgement” (if that’s what I’m doing) in this manner unadvisedly, without understanding the issues, or “easily”, they’re totally wrong. There’s nothing particularly easy about knowing you or your friends could be next and your murderer would get sympathy for their actions and the responsibility shifted off of them so that the next murderer could find it just a tiny bit easier to take that step (no, I don’t think murdering people is easy either, but I do know it becomes easier, including pushing people that little bit over that line, for parents to murder their children when it’s been publicly excused and sympathized with as a way out, even with the best of intentions).

  20. Ms Clark April 19, 2006 at 19:44 #

    Sue M.,
    Prometheus is in academia. He or she’s a biology student, post doc or something. You can find this on his/her blog.

    I’ve had terrible depressions and seasonal depressions. I’ve though about suicide, but it’s been a long time since I have. I thought, “well, who will take care of my kids?” and since I couldn’t think about killing them and couldn’t think of anyone else who would take care of them properly, I decided that suicide wasn’t such a good idea.

    Some of this is purely brain chemistry and some is the logical outcome of being abused constantly and not being “supported” part of which is created by the inability of the person to ask for help. They don’t think anyone cares. They think they are worthless, have been told so… directly or indirectly. And the times when other people contradict that and tell the depressed person, “you are great! we love you!” it sounds wrong and is rejected by the mind as a poison.

    What struck me though was the place bullying played in this. The mom seems to have assessed the situation:
    My beautiful son is being bullied. These people are pouring acid on his heart every day at school and after school. I can’t think of anything to change this. It will continue. Do I let my child continue to be tortured under the approving eyes of society, or do I take him away from the torture permanently?

    In those situations her action TO HER seems so perfectly ethical and reasonable while also being a very horrible choice.. what is it? Sophie’s choice? No choice?

    The solution, to me, is in not allowing bullying. The mom may have been a lifelong victim of bullying herself. The solution is also for all of us to be aware of these kinds of sad situations and try to intervene, if possible.

    Personally, I wish the mom could have tried an antidepressant, gotten some talk therapy from someone who understands… even a good friend, and that she could have found a way to get her son away from bullies. I wish some kind of support system/respite had been there for her, or if it was there that she had used it.

    Mental illness was certainly part of this murder suicide, the mental illness of people who bully and allow it (maybe it’s time to put bullying in the DSM), as well as the depression of the mom which keeps people from thinking rationally, sometimes.

    I hope these deaths are pushed in the faces of the bullies so they can see the results of their torture.

  21. Kev April 19, 2006 at 19:45 #

    _”And only you, Kev, could get so upset about an innocent question without knowing the facts.”_

    ….which is why I asked….stil not so good at joining the dots are you Sue?

    _”The fact is, there was a reference to Prometheus being a doctor on Orac’s blog. It was from Maria (scroll down to the bottom of the post to see):”_

    Thank you for clearing that up.

    _”Don’t blow a blood vessel over it. Geez.”_

    I really don’t think this is an appropriate thread for you to come steaming in with your trademark crassness and innuendo. Have a bit of restraint in a topic thread thats sensitive please.

    _”One last hint: 99.9% of the posters on EoH don’t give a rat’s ass about Prometheus, Orac, Diva or Kev Leitch for that matter… don’t flatter yourself.”_

    I’ll try to contain my bitter disappointment.

  22. Sue M. April 19, 2006 at 19:53 #

    Kev wrote:

    “which is why I asked….stil not so good at joining the dots are you Sue”?

    – That is how you ask? Learn some manners.

  23. Kev April 19, 2006 at 19:59 #

    _”Murder is still murder. A large porption of all murders can probably be blamed on society to some extent, and on psychological problems. This doesn’t mean that murder can be justified under these circumstances, or that most of the blame should not go to the perpetrator.”_

    Absolutely Joseph. At the end of the day, a persons actions are their own responsibility.

    A good example is the Yorkshire Ripper, a serial killer who targeted women in the 70’s and 80’s in Yorkshire.

    When he was finally caught he played the NGRI card (not guilty by reason of insanity) and managed to avoid jail. He serves his time in Broadmoor – what used to be called a ‘mental institution’. Quite apart from the fact that his ‘mental illness’ was clearly bull, the fact is that he murdered people.

    All of which is a lengthy way of saying that I don’t think its safe to say that the fact of this mental illness _excuses_ her actions – nothing can excuse murder. However, I also don’t think we can say that a depressive state did not at least _contribute_ to this woman’s actions.

  24. Kev April 19, 2006 at 20:00 #

    _”That is how you ask? Learn some manners.”_

    Once more Sue. Please, just this once, leave your attitude at the door. This is not the thread for your whinging. If you can’t do that then feel free to abstain from this thread.

  25. Lili April 19, 2006 at 20:07 #

    Amanda, I agree that murder is murder, and I understand your anger at the idea that someone could murder a child and get sympathy for it.

    However, I see a huge difference between sympathy offered to THIS particular mother, who killed herself immediately after killing her autistic child, and sympathy offered to parents who kill autistic children and then are given lenient sentences while they go on to live the rest of their lives freed of the “burden” of caring for an autistic. These are two very, very different situations. This particular mother is not benefiting from her son’s death or from anyone’s sympathy, because she’s dead too.

    I cannot say for sure what might have been going through her head to cause her to do this horrendous act- but I will venture to guess (based on my experience) that she first intended suicide for herself because she felt that she could not go on, and chose to kill her son as well- AFTER deciding on suicide for herself- because she could not bear the idea of leaving him (at age 11) to the mercy of the British social and health care services for, possibly, the rest of his life. Not because his autism was a fate worse than death, but because the way he would be treated after she was gone SEEMED, to her disordered mind, as a fate worse than death.

    That does not mean I think she was justified or that she did the right thing. I’m only saying that she will in no way benefit from the murder of her child, as your parents or caregivers might, so why is it so wrong for me to feel pity for her?

  26. Amanda April 19, 2006 at 22:15 #

    It’s not really a matter of whether I am angry or not, none of this is all that much about feelings to me.

    It’s a matter of protection. She can’t be protected. The boy can’t be protected. I know that.

    However, public sympathy for murderers in these situations (whether it’s murder-suicides or just murders) does have an effect on people who will possibly see this as a way out, even just a little more of one than they already thought it might be.

    Which means it has an effect on you. And an effect on me. And an effect on pretty much all autistic people. That every single one of us is a little bit less safe. Both those of us who do and those of us who don’t consent to this kind of public sympathy are affected by this, equally.

    You say you understand why I might be angry, but this is not about my anger. Or lack thereof. What I’m feeling, whether it is anger, fear, pity, outrage, compassion, joy, grief, gladness, or sorrow, or some combination thereof, is irrelevant. What’s relevant is the fact that public sympathy in these kinds of murders really does have an effect on future murders, and it’s not a good one. This isn’t a feeling.

  27. Nathzn April 19, 2006 at 22:44 #

    The child is NOT autistic! The media didn’t investigate it thoughly.

    He did have a condition but it was NOT something on the autistic spectrum.

  28. mike stanton April 19, 2006 at 22:53 #

    One of the biggest problems with a case like this is making sure of the facts.

    The report that Kev cites made an elementary mistake when it said,
    “One dark figure is seen leaping from the walkway into the River Ouse, near Hull, followed eight seconds later by the second person.”

    They jumped from the Humber Bridge into the River Humber. The Ouse is a tributary where the body was found. I know because I used to live nearby. Is this a trivial objection? I think that when you are reporting the death of a child you ought to get all the facts right.

    This is the only newspaper that has reported details of alleged bullying. Another newspaper, the local Stockport Express reported

    Alison’s friend of four years, Tracy Hinds, from Alamein Drive, Romiley, said Ryan and his mum were well-liked and the outgoing youngster was often seen playing with other children.

    Tracy said Alison doted on her son and she denied claims made in a national newspaper that Ryan was the victim of bullies.

    “All the children on the estate liked him and looked after him. He was always out playing. Lads would be playing football and he would just join in.

    I am not saying that he was never bullied but the picture I got from reading all the reports was that Ryan was a popular boy, well known and well liked in his community.

    Most papers made great play of his autism and mental age of seven. Very few mentioned his Fragile X syndrome or the fact that he was included in his local mainstream school.

    And was it murder? If the CCTV footage is of the boy and his mother, then they both jumped independently and 8 seconds apart. The footage is too poor to tell who jumped first.

    I am not trying to argue one way or another here. Just to point out that there are errors and inconsistencies in the published reports. People should be aware of this when forming their judgements.

  29. Lili April 19, 2006 at 23:16 #

    Nathzn, Fragile X is considered to be on the autistic spectrum, and has symptoms very similar to autism, but in my opinion the specific diagnosis is less relevant than the idea that the child may or may not have been a victim of murder/suicide because he was neurologically different.

  30. Ms Clark April 19, 2006 at 23:32 #

    Fragile X is not specifically part of the spectrum. You can say that about 40% (according to a world class expert) of Frag X people fit the criteria for autism, or you can say that some people with Fragile X are “autism phenocopies” or you can say that he acted like an autistic person and so was autistic… assuming that he did act like an autistic person.

    I wouldn’t trust the words of the neighbor who said he wasn’t bullied. Maybe she didn’t know. Maybe she was afraid her kid would be exposed as the bully.

    Still your point, Mike, is good that the papers don’t always get it right, and can get it horrifically wrong.

    The discussion here is still valid, even if some of the points turn out not to apply in this case.

    I don’t think a child can truly consent to kill himself, even after his mother jumped, he might have felt obligated to try to save her or might have been told that no one would take care of him if he stayed behind… He might have been told to jump so he could go straight to heaven for that matter (I hope not).

  31. Ms Clark April 19, 2006 at 23:35 #


    And if he’s the biological child of this mother, he inherited the Frag X mutation from her. There may be some massive (inappropriate) guilt there. Also, the moms have almost a syndrome of their own, as I understand it, they have issues with anxiety and can mild have learning disabilities.

  32. mike stanton April 20, 2006 at 00:00 #

    Ms Clark
    I take your points entirely. The discussion here is more valid than most.

  33. Ms Clark April 20, 2006 at 01:21 #
    I don’t know if this newsstory was posted already. It gives a little more info about support services and the mom’s suicide note. This story didn’t mention bullying.

    It’s hard to be a single mom of a disabled child. If it’s hard to find a partner/helper/spouse for any single mom, it’s really hard for a single mom of a disabled child because it’s even less likely that someone will want to get involved long term. Not impossible, of course, but really unlikely. It complicates the situation.

    She should not have killed herself or her son, but none of us really know how awful and hopeless she felt, or on the flip-side, how selfish she may have been.

    He was a cute boy.

  34. MAría Luján Ferreira April 20, 2006 at 04:03 #

    Mrs Clark
    Thank you very much for you sensible and empathic comments. I agree totally with you.
    As you say, we will never know what were in her mind and in her heart to do this.
    No, as you say it is not easy to be the mom of an special kid and to be a single mom requires extraordinaire energy and heart and emotional strength.
    I try to understand her.I almost lost my first child when she was one day of life and I remember the state of pure sadness and desperation I were only to have to think in her death. Fortunately she answered to the treatment at that moment. I would fight with whatever I have by my children´s lives. But she was a very ill woman. With the special emotional connection that our special kids have with us , their moms, it is very heart breaking to think how the child must be felt or how he was convinced to .

    All the situation is very sad for me.
    María Luján

  35. Bronwyn G April 20, 2006 at 04:11 #

    Thank you for the revelations that Mums who carry the Fragile X gene have a syndrome of their own which is very subtle and carries over into our ideas of broad autistic phenotype.

    Thank you also for your thoughtful and true answers to “Why do people think autistic children are harbingers of doom”? And also all your posts which value autistic life and neurodiverse life.

    I do feel pity for the mother, but she did something actively wrong. I do know that mothers are capable of killing their children – I am sure I would probably do the same if I was in her position, seeing things in her perspective. But I would try really hard not to because I do value human life in all its shapes and phases. And such a thing would probably ride over the stresses I would feel in raising such a child. Of course it may turn out like Kev and Megan. I hope so. I hope it’s the best outcome!

    Have there been any cases of the reverse situation? Autistic mum kills NT kid? That’s where my mind and heart would really drag in the big guns. But it would be the same thing, the same crime, wouldn’t it? At least as the law and conventional morality has it? And how would the media and the community deal with it then?

    Mike, thank you for exposing the inaccuracies and the oversights many media outlets have made in reporting this story.

    And if 99.9% of Evidence of Harm people are really so apathetic (as in they don’t care until it affects them directly and personally) about the issues we are discovering, that just confirms my views and prejudices. I think they are supporting/condoning the bullying which goes on far too much in the autism community as much as any community. And I do merge autism and autistics community. We each can’t survive without each other, that is my opinion.

    Camille, I really feel for the mum if she wanted to take her son away from bullying. I hope that other mums in this situation will see it through and not kill their kids. I still think there is a great deal to be learnt about this if not in the immediate aftermath.

    And I do think mental illness, like autism, is a state of being rather than a list of doings.

  36. Bronwyn G April 20, 2006 at 04:13 #

    I should like to say something else.

    I would hope if it were a decision of life and death affecting me and mine my intellect would win out over my feelings. Feelings are not always reliable and the circumstances in which they save people’s lives are really very limited.

    Not that my intellect is so reliable either but I would want to be calm and balanced before even contemplating such things.

  37. Ms Clark April 20, 2006 at 06:23 #

    The hopelessness of depression is almost like a delusion. There was a study done (can’t cite the source, don’t know) where a depressed person who was in a hospital after a surgery (which can depress people) was walked in the corridor every day. He was walked a little further every day until he could make a loop around the “nurses station” in other words he walked up a hall and turned left and left and left again and back to his room…

    The nurse said, “you are getting better you are walking more each day” and the depressed person said, “No I’m not” The nurse said, “look, you walked all the way around the circuit…” the man replied, “Yeah, well you someone created (built) a shortcut through the middle of the center section we were walking around so that I was only walking half as much”

    The point of the article this was in was, his mind refused to believe he was getting better and automatically generated a reason in order to maintain his belief that he was in bad shape.

    Serious depression does that exact thing. It’s not just whiney people who are full of self pity and need to snap out of it (though maybe there are people like that) it’s people who really believe that life hurts and there’s no way to make it better.

    I think it’s just as scary for manics (people with mania?), their judgement is also skewed, but toward omnipotence which can put them in danger, too.

    It helped me to fight depression to know some of the facts of depression, some time little bits of logic can break through the irrational mental state.]

    As for an autistic mom killing her NT child, I guess we have agreed that if the mom intended to commit suicide right after that says something different than if she intended to go living happily ever after without the kid. That doesn’t seem like something an autistic person would do, in my opinion. Let’s hope no more moms ever kill their children. It’s awful.

    Lets hope no autistic adult commits suicide ever or is killed, that’s a much more likely thing to happen.

    My NT kid is talking about wanting to get married (no one in particular yet) and wanting to have children… good grief, that’s a whole lot of work for anyone.

  38. Bronwyn G April 20, 2006 at 07:56 #

    I was talking more about ordinary feelings being unreliable.

    Mania and depression is an extreme version of that!

    I liked the story in the first two paragraphs, Ms Clark.

  39. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) April 20, 2006 at 09:19 #

    Lili… “She was simply lost, alone, abandoned by society, and made an irrational and unfortunate choice because she could see no more rational options.”

    That’s pretty much how my training in psychology would see it (personal construct psychology)… that’s probably how she construed her situation to be and how she felt that the best way out of it might have to be. Not a situation I would have liked to have been in.

    I’m not saying here that it was okay to kill her child (under any circumstances, murder is indeed murder). The fact of the child being autistic – in some ways – is immaterial here… it was a child who died. My point (which I’m trying to get across at a time of rather maximal stress in my life) is this: when she killed her child, it is highly unlikely that she was thinking that it was okay to kill him because he was autistic and because he was a burden. Chances are she did not know what else she could do. The case doesn’t look like the demonisation of autism *until* the news media got hold of it.

    And that’s when the appeal to emotion comes in and the demonisation occurs.

  40. Nathzn April 20, 2006 at 13:16 #

    “Nathzn, Fragile X is considered to be on the autistic spectrum, and has symptoms very similar to autism, but in my opinion the specific diagnosis is less relevant than the idea that the child may or may not have been a victim of murder/suicide because he was neurologically different.”

    I know that Fragile X is similar to ASD, the point is was making is that when it comes to the nerologicaly different the media don’t bother to put in the same ammount of effort and time into get their facts straight.

    I didn’t like the story as it showed total sympathy for the mother and very little for the actual child, but I suppose thats how they get ratings.

  41. bonni April 21, 2006 at 02:06 #

    What Ryan’s mother did was clearly not rational, nor was it “understandable”

    Well, believe it or not, I do understand it. It’s not rational as those who are not mentally ill would think of it, no, but I can understand because I’ve BEEN that mentally ill (not for a long time, thankfully, and not any more).

    When you’re seriously mentally ill, you may literally be incapable of rational thought. Your perceptions and thought processes are all tainted by the illness. Problems that other people might consider minor may seem insurrmountable.

    When the world looks like a dark, evil place with no hope in it, removing one’s loved ones from it DOES feel/seem like it’s merciful.

    Also remember that Killing one’s child(ren) and then oneself is hardly a new thing, and hardly limited to the parents of autistic children. It happens with fair regularity and has pretty much forever. Mental illness is not a new invention any more than suicide or murder are.

    No, it’s not rational. No, it doesn’t make sense in the usual way of looking at things. To the severely depressed, though, it does make sense.

    The biggest thing that strikes me about this case is that this woman was apparently so desperate and so without support that she was able to actually exercise her dark thoughts and irrational fears and beliefs. Nobody was there to stop her, to help her, to provide any sort of comfort…

    I’m not in any way saying that her choice was a good one, but trying to force “sense” and “logic” onto someone who was clearly beyond sense and logic and who was probably not even capable of it is pointless.

    Mental illness takes a terrible toll, and lack of support just makes the problem worse.

  42. Ruth April 21, 2006 at 15:52 #

    One thing my husband learned at a mountainering class is that many people die of hypothermia within reach of shelter. Once your brain gets too cold, you can’t take simple steps to save yourself. My depression never reached that stage, but I can see how depression keeps you from meeting with people that could help you, until the isolation spirals downward.

  43. Simon Burdis April 22, 2006 at 00:38 #

    These tragedies will become less common when:
    we stop closing special schools,
    we develop more autism specific and related special school provision which can also offer residential and respite care support,
    we develop more village / intentional community (based on the Camphill – Rudolf Steiner community model) / residential care provision for adults with special needs and
    we find the courage to curtail the worst excesses of the extreme inclusionists who have transformed a potentially benign educational process into something approaching a fundamentalist cult or totalitarian socio-political ideology. eg the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, Bristol, UK is campaigning for the closure of all special schools and specialist provision for children and adults with special needs. It has already managed to amend the draft Disability Convention at the UN, which if ratified this Summer 2006, will in effect ban parents from being able to choose a special school and close them down internationally. We must stop this madness and help prevent anymore of these tragedies.

  44. Prometheus April 22, 2006 at 04:47 #

    I have to admit a certain confusion with the concept that “mental illness” excuses a crime. I suppose that it might be wise to direct criminals who have impaired or altered perceptions of reality to the mental hospitals rather than placing them in the general prison population, both for their protection and the protection of the other inmates.

    However, I find it hard to imagine a psychiatrist or psychologist finding a murderer to be completely “sane” – i.e. free from mental aberrations (for that matter, I haven’t met many people who I thought were “completely” sane). Yet, they routinely examine these people and find them sane, insane or a bit of both.

    Back to the matter of hopelessness and guilt – I wonder what a better societal response to disabled and “different” people might do toward preventing depression and suicide. I haven’t any idea, but it is an intriguing idea.

    To Sue M – You are the only person who seemed bothered by my comment about “…those who are capable of thinking outside of the box of dogma and delusion”, so I assume that it struck a chord with you. As they say in America, “If the shoe fits…”

    As for being a doctor – Maria certainly made that assumption, but I cannot recall ever claiming to have that degree. Not that it should matter, since I maintain anonymity. I refer to my work only as it pertains to the matter at hand. My ideas can stand without the support of a piece of parchment.

    And frankly, the less my name comes up on the EoH list, the happier I am. Some of the people on that list are truly scary – and I don’t mean that in a good way. They are the reason I remain safely anonymous.


  45. bonni April 22, 2006 at 05:13 #

    I have to admit a certain confusion with the concept that “mental illness” excuses a crime.

    How do you think it excuses it? People look for rational explanations where there are none, that’s the point.

    I do find the general lack of understanding and comprehension regarding mental illness to be troubling, though. There’s as much stigma about that as there is about autism, IMHO.

  46. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) April 22, 2006 at 17:43 #

    bonni: “People look for rational explanations where there are none, that’s the point.”

    This is what Kelly was talking about.

    It’s not about what makes sense to us as we think reasonably rationally. It’s about what makes sense to the person in the situation that is being observed that is more important. We are not that person at that time in that situation.

    Not long ago, my then father-in-law hanged himself. I was then the only psychologist that the family really would listen to. There were questions as to why he would do this, knowing that there’d be people he could turn to. My only answer was that that is not necessarily how he saw it. We on the outside ot that experience see one thing, but what the person in the situation sees is a totally different beast.

    Finland (where I live) is a country with a very high suicide rate, and – given what I have experenced here (sure, anecdotal it certainly is) and what others have too – I can honestly say that sociopolitical systems can exert a pressure on the individual to the extent that – by restricting that person’s freedom of movement between regions in (Lewin’s) ‘E’-sectors of life-space – governments are actually quite able to push the individual to engage in actions most people would see as irrational.

    bonni, I hope this post give some of the science that backs up your point.

    Prometheus, regarding your point: “I have to admit a certain confusion with the concept that ‘mental illness’ excuses a crime. I suppose that it might be wise to direct criminals who have impaired or altered perceptions of reality to the mental hospitals rather than placing them in the general prison population, both for their protection and the protection of the other inmates.”

    Without an understanding of personal construct psychology AND Lewin’s life-space model you will basically never understand this issue. Even the idea of ‘impaired’ perceptions of reality fades into insignificance when one realises that – despite the fact that it went ahead – the Iraq War was entirely illegal, thus placing Bush and Blair amongst the set of people to be classified as war criminals. Like it or not, that is true, since the UN Security Council’s statement that the strike against Iraq was illegal defines these two men as war criminals. Period. But, for most people, who can quite willingly blind themselves to reality, it was seen as an heroic thing to do. It was not. It was a war crime.

    If we see the issue of criminal offence being mitigatable “because of impaired perception of reality” then we have to see also Bush’s and Blair’s cooperation in the strike on Iraq as being the behavioural result of an ‘impaired perception of reality’.

    Who is directing *them* to a mental hospital?

    This woman in teh newspaper article was depressed chronically, and this in itself brings a great many ‘non-rationalities’ into the equation (in the sense of things seen by most who are not in a given distressing situation) and these must be accepted. They don’t have to be liked, or approved of. but they exist and must be acknowledged.

    Otherwise, forensic science (including forensic psychology) has nothing to say on this case. Period. The experiences of the person in the situation are the key to understanding why any offence takes place. Without the system understands this, it is obliged to shut the fuck up.

  47. bonni April 23, 2006 at 15:18 #

    The painter Monet developed cataracts. He continued to paint, but to outside observers, the colors were getting darker, yellower, and duller. Monet, of course, was painting what he saw.

    When his cataracts were surgically repaired and his eyesight restored, he was shocked and horrified at the paintings he’d done when his eyesight was affected. Naturally, he had no idea he was painting so strangely. It looked fine to him…

    Mental illness is not dissimilar. You look at the world through tinted glasses. Different illnesses have different “tints”. Everything you see is tinted, distorted. And you don’t even know it… To you the world you see is the way the world IS. CIA agents really ARE monitoring your thoughts, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar. You really ARE worthless, and anyone who tells you otherwise wants something from you are are too stupid to see what you’re “really like”. You really ARE smarter than everyone and your latest plan is the best plan ever in the world and soon you’ll be wealthy because of it…

    That’s how I explain it, when I feel any need to explain it at all. Until and unless people want to understand, they won’t.

    Mental illness is, in my opinion, as misunderstood as autism.

  48. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) April 28, 2006 at 17:53 #

    bonni: “Until and unless people want to understand, they won’t.”

    Sadly, this is all to true.

  49. k cook May 27, 2006 at 10:16 #

    in reference to mothers murdering their offspring , autistic or not , should be thrown in jail , the woman in australia is now free aa a bird, i cant say much more regarding her poor son she smothered , he will never be free, i hope he haunts her till the day she dies and she has nightmares every nite for the rst of her life. the insanity plea or what they call here is oz is diminished responsiblity , is a cop out , we do not have a justice system here , we have a legal system and once again the legal system has spit in the eye of all of us people over here, listening to daniela dawes waffle on about , she didnt do it , so who did ,. a band of pixies broke in? MURDER IS MURDER.

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