The title a modified version of a line from a recent study: A Case Study of Paternal Filicide-Suicide: Personality Disorder, Motives, and Victim Choice. This is a topic that many of us, autistics and parents, have been aware of and trying to prevent for years. Parents and caregivers are killing people with disabilities. Not frequently, but far too often. Once is too often.
This study, this story, reminds us of why we speak out. Why when someone downplays the value of an autistic life, we speak out. Why when someone tries to downplay the seriousness of a murder, we speak out.
The study discusses the case of a father who murdered his autistic son. The researchers were able to speak at length with the murderer and report the details behind the murder. This sort of view into a murder is rare.
There were three major factors that fed into the murder. First, the father is mentally ill. He had an undiagnosed schizoid personality disorder.
Some people will jump on this and say, “aha, here’s the reason. It isn’t what we say that caused the murder, it’s because the father was mentally ill.”
For any of you reading this: you are completely missing the point. We don’t downplay murder, we don’t downplay the value of autistic lives specifically to not feed into a murder such as this. You can say, “I won’t judge parents who commit murder and almost every parent out there will not be encouraged to commit murder.
Key word: almost. There are people like this father out there.
And if you don’t understand that statements like this ares harmful and damaging to autistics, that they tell autistics they are less valued than the rest of us in society, please step back and rethink that.
The second factor that played into this father’s decision to commit murder was revenge. He was separated from his wife and felt that she had moved on to new relationships, and he wanted to hurt her.
Instead of hurting her directly, he chose to murder his son. He didn’t consider murdering either of his typical daughters, but only his autistic son.
Oh, and there’s a fourth reason. The second part of the motive (first being revenge). This exemplifies the reason why we don’t feed the narrative that autistic lives are worth less, that their struggles mean they would be somehow better off not alive. This is that the father felt a sense of altruism in murdering is son.
Yes, altruism. We hear that again and again. That somehow the parent is helping the child by ending his or her life.
The authors begin the section on altruism with this discussion:
The offender was convinced that his wife’s effusive preoccupation with their son’s impairment and her support of the educational inclusion project would be detrimental to their son. With his and his son’s death, both of them would be liberated from what he experienced as the mother’s intrusive and overbearing interference. Also, the offender had long been preoccupied with what would become of his son when he reached adulthood. He thought of his child as a nice boy and he believed that his son would be far too good to survive in what the offender considered to be a dog-eat-dog world. He was convinced that, by killing him, he would in fact spare him from a cruel destiny: “He wouldn’t have a future and would only get in trouble, anyway.”
Some people don’t understand why so many of us promote acceptance. Let’s leave aside the obvious (accepting people for who they are is the right thing to do), the message of “non-acceptance” is damaging. It is hurtful. Beyond that, yes, it feeds the murder narrative. Consider this from the study, the discussion of how the father saw his son as “different” and was “not very happy with him”.
Concerning his son, though, there was also another side to his attachment. Although he loved him, the offender admitted that, in fact, he was not very happy with him. He did not like having a son who was “different” and impaired. Although he admitted being ambivalent towards his son, he nevertheless stressed that this would not have been a sufficient reason to kill him.
Also note that the father saw that his son “lived on another planet” and didn’t respond as expected.
To him it appeared that his son “lived on another planet.” Discussing the offence, he emphasized that, contrary to human behavior, mathematically-based computer systems are regarded as “intelligent and reliable.” As the offender explained, the output of a computer is determined by the input: “a computer can only produce a stupid answer if the initial question is stupid.” “Hence intelligent input ineluctably leads to intelligent output.” Although he did his best to feed his son with what he considered to be intelligent input, the output was not as he expected. As has been observed with individuals with schizoid personality disorder, the offender saw the world as being out of line rather than himself not being attuned with the world around him (Esterberg et al., 2010).
If I am somehow not getting the message across–
There are messages that are not only damaging, they lower the bar for those considering murdering autistics (and other people with disabilities).
“My kid is different and I can’t accept that.”
“My kid’s life is harder, so it is less worth living.”
“My life is hard/my family’s life is hard because of my kid.”
“That parent murdered his/her child. I can’t judge that parent because I haven’t walked in his/her shoes.”
Of course this discssion comes shortly after I have spoken out against Polly Tommey for using exactly this language. Language that downplays the seriousness of murders (here and here). She says she “won’t judge” parents who murder their autistic children. Further she says this is because she “hasn’t walked in their shoes”. Saying that means that there may be some reason, some experience from “walking in their shoes”, that could mitigate murder.
In the past I have also criticized Ms. Tommey’s colleague Andrew Wakefield. He has not just downplayed murder, but has portrayed the murder of autistics by parents as an act of love.
I don’t want to make this discussion about Tommey and Wakefield. They just serve as examples of people who are doing the harm I speak against.
Here is a link to the paper and the abstract:
Although evidence with respect to its prevalence is mixed, it is clear that fathers perpetrate a serious proportion of filicide. There also seems to be a consensus that paternal filicide has attracted less research attention than its maternal counterpart and is therefore less well understood. National registries are a very rich source of data, but they generally provide limited information about the perpetrator as psychiatric, psychological and behavioral data are often lacking. This paper presents a fully documented case of a paternal filicide. Noteworthy is that two motives were present: spousal revenge as well as altruism. The choice of the victim was in line with emerging evidence indicating that children with disabilities in general and with autism in particular are frequent victims of filicide-suicide. Finally, a schizoid personality disorder was diagnosed. Although research is quite scarce on that matter, some research outcomes have showed an association between schizoid personality disorder and homicide and violence.
By Matt Carey