Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Student considers parental stresses related to autism

The story of Katherine McCarron, the three year old child who was smothered to death by her own mother, was very sad, and is one of the readings that stood out to me the most this semester. I had never heard of this case before, so it was new information to me. I did a little more research on the topic, just reading a little more into the story. I was shocked to learn that her mother was a physician. 

I found a website titled “Action for Autism”  with some more information about Katherine McCarron. Some newspapers actually reported that this murder was done to put her out of pain. It seems like a lot of people are misinformed about autism. It is not a disorder that causes pain. It has more to do with the way people socially interact.

One part of the article states: “one mother—with her autistic daughter within earshot—mentioned that she once thought of driving her and her daughter off the George Washington Bridge.” When I read this portion, I just thought it was absolutely horrible. What kind of person could think that, let alone talk about it with their child listening?

However, something changed my mind.

After reading the article, I was browsing through the comments that people were leaving. One stood out to me and really gave me a different point of view. “I am not condoning murder….I am defending the mother who had the courage to admit her desire to drive off the Washington bridge. We need to listen to these cries for help as a society and work on creating greater and more accessible support systems for families with autistic children.” I still think the idea of driving off of the Washington Bridge is pretty extreme, but this commenter had an excellent point. Clearly there is a need for more support for not just autistic people, but for their parents as well. It makes sense, the parents are their sole care providers. They need resources and information that are accessible so that they do not feel alone or overwhelmed. It seems like many of the other people who commented related to this story at least a little bit. One mother that commented claimed to feel unsupported, exhausted, and depressed. Taking care of any child is time consuming and stressful. A special needs child could be more stressful on the parents and family.

I think that this just shows the importance of the few supportive organizations for parents of autistic (or any other special needs) children. 

Here is my reaction, in a purple font.

Children with significant autistic symptoms and associated social impairments are not like the rest of us. They share with persons who have anti-social personality disorder a difficulty feeling empathy or understanding the reality that other people exist as something other than objects, things, tools, means toward the gratification of desires. Unlike persons with anti-social personality disorder, persons with serious autistic disorder  don’t try to deceive (in fact, persons with autism can be the most honest humans, as they sometimes do not understand the concept of deception, lies, or such things). Much of human morality seems to be related to wanting to be perceived as a good person, and persons with significant autism symptoms don’t usually care how others perceive them, or they are unaware that other people can even have conceptions or perceptions of them.  That just isn’t part of the mental world for them. 

Thus, it can sometimes seem that persons with autistic disorder are entirely a-moral.  When they are in the grip of strong negative (hostile) emotions, they can be moved to murderous rage, and they may not be able to constrain acts of violence, or their control of violent impulses may be rooted only in fear of consequences, and not in any empathetic sense of sympathy for the person with whom they are angry.

Since the children with this disorder live in a mental and emotional world so alien to normal human thinking (and morality), they can be perceived as being entirely wicked, and in exasperation, it would be easy for people to become utterly and murderously frustrated and able to contemplate murdering such children, even if they were their own children. It is probably good for people to recognize this and talk about it, because by recognizing their dark feelings and desires they will be able to deal with them and control them.  If they deny such feelings, or pretend that those feelings aren’t there, it may be harder to control them, or they may start to feel tremendous guilt (and resulting sadness or depression). 

That’s my understanding of it all.

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