the unthinkable – again

A completely random and gratuitous photo of my sweet girl. Because when people click on this post to read about a mother killing a child with autism, this is the face that I want them to see.

Photo by Kathleen Connerton

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On May 31st of 2010, Stephanie Rochester – according to her own report to police – placed a plastic bag over her 6 month-old son, Rylan’s head.

She told police that when the infant was still breathing some time later, she placed blankets over his face. The child was dead by morning.

According to the Colorado Daily, “During the initial investigation last summer, Rochester told detectives that she believed her baby, Rylan, was autistic, and that having an autistic child would emotionally and financially “ruin” her life.” –

*

I cannot stop thinking about that precious, innocent child – brutally murdered at the hands of his own mother. I simply cannot wrap my brain around the horror of their story.

**

In July of 2010, Saiqa Akhter called 911 to tell police that she had killed her two year-old daughter, Faryaal and her five year-old son, Zainmay. CNN described the recording of the 911 call. (Warning – the story contains a video and recording of the 911 call. Please do NOT click on the link around children – it may begin to play automatically.)

On the tape, the woman tells the operator, “I killed them. I killed both of them. I killed my both kids. … They are not doing anything. They are just blue. They are not taking any breaths. Their heart is not beating.”

The operator asks her what happened.

“First, I tried to give them bathroom cleaner. I put in their mouth, but they don’t drink it. I want them to drink it. They don’t drink it. … I grabbed their neck … and they are no more,” she says on the tape.

The operator continues to talk to the woman to keep her on the phone until officers arrive. She asks why she killed her children, and the woman says she wanted normal children.

“They are autistic. I don’t want my kids to be autistic,” she is heard saying in an even tone.

The operator then asks her what she is feeling, and she says “nothing.”

***

The morning after that nightmare, I wrote the following.

**

There are no words to describe the horror of what this woman did to her precious babies.

There are no words to adequately condemn the murder of two innocent souls.

There are no words to contain the grief that we feel for those beautiful children.

There are words, however for what we can do for one another as a community of those who care for children, particularly those who do not fall into the category of the ‘normal children’ that this woman thought she wanted.

We can support one another. We can show those who don’t see the beauty that accompanies the challenges that there is joy in this life. That there is sweetness and faith and celebration and grace in raising a child – or children – with autism.

We can rise above our divisions and come together as a community – a welcoming, respectful, compassionate community that promises to hold each other up through the darkest days.

We can continue to tell our stories.

… to demystify autism.

… to reclaim the word and to reveal the incredible PEOPLE behind it.

… to open the curtains and illuminate the full spectrum of people who stand behind them.

… to personalize our stories – our children’s stories.

… to make people understand that difference is not just OK, but necessary to our survival.

… to get immediate help for those who live far beyond the realm of simple ‘difference’.

… to address our greatest fears – by creating a system that will not just house our children, but will CARE for them when we are gone.

There are no words for what this woman did. In no sphere through which my mind can travel is there any possible explanation for this monstrosity. Those children deserved a life. They deserved comfort and safety and protection and joy. They didn’t get it.

There are no words.

***

If you need support, please, please click on the links below to find local autism resource networks.

There is no more noble act than reaching out for help.

ASA Chapters by state

Autism Speaks Resources by state

Welcome to the Club

*

Today I add this …

Every one of us who is or who loves a person with autism has a responsibility.

Autism has its challenges – by God it does. And they need not be sugar-coated nor hidden from view.

But when we speak in hyperbole – when we choose words meant to shock and scare and draw attention at all costs – well, there IS a cost. When we say that autism ruins, bankrupts, destroys – those words do irreparable harm – to autistics in the world today and to those who will come after them.

People are listening.

So please – take care when you speak about autism – about our children.

For my child,

For yours.

And for Rylan, Faryaal and Zainmay – may their souls be at peace.

Amen.

43 thoughts on “the unthinkable – again

  1. Amen, and amen. The #autismpride hashtag on Twitter has been a great place to celebrate autism – while it’s definitely not all sunshine and roses, there is still much to celebrate, and often, I think we see only the difficulties.

  2. There are no words. It is truly unthinkable.

    Yesterday, I shared a link about an autistic young man. I am placing it here to show what hope truly means:

    Man With Autism Absolutely STUNS an Entire Crowd – This is Awesome!
    http://www.godvine.com

    I hope you all watch this and hear the words of the song he sings so magnificently. Watch it to the very end of the video.

    Love you,
    Mom

  3. I think I may be ill after reading that. I know what that desperation and darkness feels like and though I understand the feeling, the action still astounds me. Children that we love and adore as difficult as it can be, they are still just…children. My heart breaks thinking about it.

    I will however from this point forward make sure that I don’t add to the fear in my wording or approach. It’s a real eye opener

  4. I am writing through my tears….we all have a responsibility to the Autism community. While there are struggles, there are SO many positives…nothing beats holding YOUR child…and nothing makes my heart swell like reading about achievements of people with Autism because it gives me HOPE. And hope, nothing can take that away from me, away from my son, away from any other child and family who climb this mountain with us. We totally need to work together. Great post, Jess.

  5. I mostly agree with you, as usual, Jess. But I think we need to go a bit further here.

    Our experience with autism can be difficult, stressful, emotionally devastating, destructive to our marriages and bank accounts, dangerous, frightening, exhausting, and you name it.

    But our children, friends, relatives, neighbors, community members with autism are not — and should never be expected to be — defined by their neurological disorder. The people with autism are as diverse and complicated and wonderful and terrible as any other human being.

    Yes, we need to watch what we say when we feel the pressure and the stress and the anxiety and heartache. But neither should we be demonized or castigated for sharing our pain with the world. Our pains do not outweigh our joys any more than the pains of labor outweigh the birth of a child. Humane people understand this.

    By speaking out about my own experiences with autism, I reject responsibility for the murder of this baby or the two pre-schoolers, or the 13 year old in my neck of the woods whose mother shot him and then herself because of his autism. Because my experiences — like yours — are also amazing and awesome and full of joy. And I share those too.

    For this woman to decide that autism is justification for murder and then claim that she was insane when she made that calculation to escape the justice she so richly deserves is beyond disgust. It’s reprehensible, and she owns the blame — all of it.

    By not punishing this woman for her inhumane crime (and I know the facts are still out there, but she said she did it because autism would cost them too much money), we dehumanize those with autism. We say it’s OK to weigh the balance of a human life against your bank balance when that human life looks like it might be affected by autism.

    We, as a society that is ruled by law, should not accept this excuse. The laws apply equally to those with autism — and their lives are just as valuable as anyone else’s, no matter how those who live with them express their feelings.

    • jen,

      please don’t get me wrong – by no means did i intend to imply that telling our truths means that we are responsible for either of these women’s actions. absolutely not. hell, if that were the case i’d be the first to plead guilty.

      what i do believe though is that it is desperately important that we tell our ENTIRE truths and those, as you so beautifully said above include the joy that our children experience and that we have the privilege of experiencing with them.

      as you said, you share those too. and that matters so very much. it provides context and balance and paints a real, full picture of life with our incredible children – challenges, triumphs and all.

      and i had the same visceral reaction to the insanity plea – i don’t know what to make of it all in the end. i really need to process it for a while. i just saw the story for the first time yesterday.

      thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      jess

  6. Bless those sweet angels who lost their lives. May they rest in peace.

    You’re right, autism isn’t without tons of challenges. I can say, as a mom of an autistic toddler, it could be so much worse. Every night, I can give my son a hug and a kiss (if he’ll let me) and thank God that he is, more or less, healthy and that autism, and not something life-threatening, is what we deal with each day. Our children are beautiful, intelligent, and amazing, if we only have the courage to look past the challenges.

  7. That is just wayyyyyy too upsetting. I’m horrified, an brought to tears. I can’t fathom how ANYONE could do that. It’s the most unconscionable an awful thing I’ve ever read. Monsters.

  8. Wow, it is really hard to read such stories. I thank you for sharing it, though, as it has made me think about my own postings and how I share our struggles with Autism and other special needs. I share both the struggles and the joys that comes along with parenting both of my kids from “hard places.” I do this in hopes of inspiring others and at the same time, painting a true picture of reality for those who feel led to adopt special needs children. I never want to overshadow the pure joy, however, that exists in parenting my kids. I think you are right that we need to be mindful of the way in which we share our stories. I know I will be from now on.

  9. Unfortunately, there are and always will be stories of women (can’t even call them “Mothers”) who will take the life from their babies. Autism is not the only scapegoat, it is just the excuse for a few. Many of them blame new boyfriends or other inconveniences in life for their own lack of humanity. Sadly, these women are cruel, heartless and occassionaly actually crazy. They can spend the rest of thier useless lives rotting in prison for it.

  10. To help start a healthy conversation about autism with your kids, I recommend my new book, “Ben Has Autism, Ben Is Awesome,” now available from Jason and Nordic Publishers: jasonandnordic.com

  11. You are so right, caution must be taken when speaking of autism and our children… The closest to cure is awareness and understanding.

    “When we say that autism ruins, bankrupts, destroys โ€“ those words do irreparable harm โ€“ to autistics in the world today and to those who will come after them.” < Parenting generally when unprepared causes all these issues and feelings! Personally I feel nothing but blessed to have such a gorgeous, charming, clever little man as my son who happens to be diagnosed with Autism. If I could take away his autism, would I? NO. It makes him who he is, I am happy for him to be different, he is my super star.

    I don't know if you find it tends to be proffessionals and media which add these negative tags to autism rrather than parents, because the majority I find, like us are possitive and see our children as blessings not disruptions.

  12. you make an excellent point Jess–but there’s one more thing we need to mention here. We also need to address the SERIOUSNESS of post-partum depression, which can lead to these and other horrific choices if not treated seriously. Too often when people think of PPD, they think of baby blues and not showering, and crying a lot and other things they see on TV. The story from May of last year is focusing so much on the Autism aspect, that the media is glossing over the very serious problem this woman had. (she also had mental issues, prior to this incident, i am not ignoring that, but PPD pushed her over the edge) We cannot poo-poo PPD and tell women to just get over it. If they’re lucky, they can. But some are really not that lucky.

    Autism has its challenges to be sure, and our ability to vent online and elsewhere perhaps keeps us from “losing it” or at least keeps us real. But we do need to watch the level of vent. There are days i tell Autism to suck it, true, but sharing those triumphs are just as important.

    • Very well said, Dawn. If it weren’t for blogs online, I would never have even recognized that I had PPD. The hospital I was in gave out literature, but at that time when so much is going on, who really sits down to read it…. Plus, you have to take that step and seek out help. A lot of people have too much pride and stay in denial.

    • absolutely agreed. when i wrote the post this morning, i had only seen the boulder daily’s article re the trial from dec 5th, which did not mention PPD at all, but undoubtedly should have. It is a very real problem and one that needs far more awareness and support. thank you for bringing it up!

  13. Pingback: There IS Hope! « Footprints in Time

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  15. Reading about these terrible events, and there are far too many of them, is horrifying every single time. Thanks once again for bringing something so senseless and tragic to our attention, particularly at this time of year. My heart goes out to that little boy, and those left behind.

  16. There is so much which disturbs me about Rylan’s murder. (BTW, another very interesting article is here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2070821/Mother-smothered-baby-feared-autistic-insane-postpartum-depression.html) The article I linked mentions that the mother had raised warning flags about significant post-partum depression as well, which were ignored. I think it cannot be discounted in this particular case.

    All the more reason we need to be ever-mindful of the rhetoric we use when talking about autism or any other disability; there needs to be a balance of all parts of the realities so that people like Rylan’s mother have a glimmer of hope to hang on to when they are in those extremely dark and fearful times. Especially when they are driven by something which, quite possibly, is out of their immediate control.

    We need to stop the culture of making women with post partum depression (PPD) feel like they are inadequate or bad mothers in any way. Only when we change that dialogue, too, will we make it ok for them to ask for help. And for health care providers to give greater attention to the warning signs.

    Let me be clear, I am NOT excusing what Stephanie Rochester did at all. Merely wondering if it could have been avoided had she received the help she needed.

  17. Thanks for sharing this post. When my son was first diagnosed, I went through all the emotions. I remember thinking when my son was born that he was so perfect and then he was not. Now I realize that he is VERY perfect. I still worry about the future, but I would even without the autism… a very natural thing.

  18. I’m really curious about what motivated your post today Jess. Was there another tragedy in the US I haven’t heard about in Canada? Did someone post in offensive hyperbole about their experience as an autism-parent?

    I agree with the words of Jen and Dawn above. And I add to that, how can we judge so harshly a person, yes a mother, who is so clearly past the end of sanity, past hope, lost, maybe crazy. Certainly they should face consequences. But how could airing our own struggles and challenges, even in hyperbole, lead a mother to make such a choice? I don’t think it is the hyperbole that is to blame (which for some people is truth, not hyperbole or exageration, their marriage is destroyed, they are bankrupt, their sanity is ruined).

    I have felt comfort and community in reading that other mothers equate parenting children with autism with PTSD. I have felt relief hearing another mother can’t even go to the bathroom alone, or take a shower alone. These situations do make mothers crazy. No, we do not take our children’s lives, but if you are dealing with other underlying issues (PDD, depression, bipolar, etc) that are left untreated, and you layer on that the stress, anxiety, and possibly PTSD that go along with being some autism-parents, I don’t think we should judge quite so harshly, even though the act it is wrong, horrible, crazy, etc. And other moms shouldn’t feel silenced from sharing their pain because of it. If we silence mothers from sharing “black thoughts” we will not help them and prevent from doing horrific acts.

    We should learn from the tragedy, we should act, and not solely condem.

    • andymummy, i saw a news report about stephanie rochester yesterday. i realize that wasn’t clear in the post, so it must have seemed odd that i was dredging up such an old story. although the horrific events took place nearly a year and a half ago, the trial was in the news this week and i read about it for the first time, so for me it was new. i wrote the post in reaction.

      as for the rest of your comment, i hope you’ll read my comments above.

      best

      jess

      • Thanks Jess,

        I did read your comments above. For some reason this whole stream (post and comments) has left me feeling incredibly sad and adrift. I’ve been following you for nearly a year, and always found such a sense of community in the posts and group. But when we say people with depression or insanity are monsters and not enough or a warrior, that must alienate more than just me in your readership. I am neither clinically depressed nor insane, but I can sure see the precipice of some slippery slope on the foggy horizon. I work hard to be well and strong, pay bills and fund therapy, for my two on the spectrum; I also work hard to keep my sites trained on the bright horizon, not the dark one.

        Anyway, I don’t know if I’ve explained this well. I am most sad to have lost the connection with this things called DOAM that has been so important to me (she says with tears in her eyes. Hopefully I’ll hear this part of your post more than the other parts one day: We can rise above our divisions and come together as a community โ€“ a welcoming, respectful, compassionate community that promises to hold each other up through the darkest days.

    • I’m really sorry that this post has caused such pain for you. I would ask that perhaps you read the actual post again before you divorce yourself from the community here.

      While I clearly condemned the ACT of killing innocent children (and I’m not sure who wouldn’t), I never condemned the clearly disturbed mothers who perpetrated these acts. In fact, my reaction was to ask folks to come together to find ways to support each other in order to avoid anyone reaching a place where monstrous acts are possible.

      When I wrote the post, as I said above, it was in reaction to a single article talking about the trial. I knew nothing about the PPD piece. As soon as I heard about it I acknowledged it and agreed that it needs to be taken far more seriously and far more awareness and support are necessary.

      I realize I’m sounding really defensive here, but I guess that’s how I’m feeling. I’m just a little lost as to why you feel (as I read your comments) that the post was an attack on these women or was somehow divisive. It certainly wasn’t meant to be.

      Best

      Jess

  19. Andymommy, when I posted my link to the more recent article (again, I think in the news lately bc the trial is going on/coming up?), I think Jess was posting her comment about PPD at the same time. That’s one of the challenges of online “discussions”…they sometimes end up happening out of the actual order in which they would normally take place and can leave us feeling misheard or misunderstood.

    Please believe me when I say that I know Jess *personally* and can attest to the fact that she would not condemn these women at all. She adheres very strongly to the “hate the deed but not (necessarily) the doer.” In fact, there have been times in private discourse where I have been ready to draw blood for one reason or another and Jess always manages to help me see beyond the feelings to the bigger picture.

    For what it’s worth, I also don’t think Jess was advocating that we *only* share the good, merely that we choose our words carefully when describing the really hard stuff. I, for one, have a child with very significant challenges and there are days I rail and gnash my teeth at the effeects of his autism (and other disabilities), but it never keeps me from seeing โ€”and wanting to shareโ€” the goodness that is inherent in him. As I see it, it is my duty to find ways in which to express my grief, fears or frustrations/angers in ways which respect my son.

    I hope you will continue to read and find the things which resonate…and continue to comment on that which doesn’t sit right. There will *always* be differences in approach and philosophy, for sure, but I think the only way in which we can strengthen our community is by giving grace and compassion and searching for common ground.

    Wishing you all the best.

  20. Hard to believe this post was from two and a half years ago. I see my comments and hardly know that mom… she (me) was barely making it from day to day with two preschoolers on the spectrum, one aggressive and violent, and was overwhelmed by and fearful of our future.

    But the unthinkable happened again in Canada, in my Province. I have no words and my heart breaks for this boy and his mom. Breaks.

    I keep hearing from moms who have been travelling this road longer than I that nothing seems to be changing, and I keep asking myself why. Why do things not improve with diagnostic wait time, funding for treatment, quality of treatment, support in school, and support through the life time? Why? I don’t have answers. Only questions.

  21. You probably don’t even remember writing this but I just wanted to say that Zain and Faryaal’s mother was extremely psychotic and mentally ill. She believed they were going to be kidnapped and sold as sex slaves.

  22. I adore you and your family. I’ve been a fan of you all for quite sometime. I’ve been randomly reading your archived posts, enjoying your writing and wondering, yet again, why you haven’t published a book yet! This post stopped me in my tracks. It devastated me. I just don’t see how a mother could take the precious life from their own child! They say a special needs child ruins, bankrupts, destroys them? How about the laughter, love, and happiness your child brings? I won’t pretend to know the challenges of an autistic, or nautistic, child. It takes strong parents to raise a child with special needs. I see it. I was around some pretty amazing parents while volunteering at the military hospital, before the wreck disabled me. I was also around some parents who were on the verge of a nervous breakdown. They didn’t give up on their child, though. The thought of not having their child horrified them! All of the parents were in agreement. They would have given their own lives to keep their children safe, and to plan for their futures. No, I know nothing of being a parent other than my nephew, God-children and, when it’s convenient for others, a step-mother. My daughter, the only child I could ever have, was murdered. I would gladly take years of difficulty, frustration and pain to be gifted moments of happiness, smiles, and laughter. I would have gladly taken it all, to both give my child a voice when she needed it, and to know the life of being a Mother. I just don’t get it. I probably never will.
    PS: You and Luau are awesome parents, and I absolutely love reading your posts! You keep them real and honest. You maintain your sweet, beautiful daughter’s dignity and privacy, the way every good Mother should, the way I hoped I would.
    xoxo, Tina H.

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