Guest Blog Post By: Scott Badesch, President/CEO, Autism Society of America
Recently, it seems like every morning I have read or heard about incidents of violence against individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In Traverse City, Michigan, Kelli Stapleton tried to kill her daughter on the spectrum. A Florida teen, Aaron Hill, was kicked and punched by two young men at a party. In Bay Village, Ohio, an unnamed 15-year-old boy on the spectrum was victimized in an Ice Bucket Challenge where the bucket of ice cold water was actually filled with body fluids. Last year, in Chicago, Alex Spourdalakis was stabbed to death by his reportedly overburdened mother and caretaker. And, most recently, in Montgomery County, Maryland, John and Janice Land kept their 22-year-old sons with autism padlocked in a basement room for nearly six years. There are countless incidences like these across the country.
In the case of Ms. Stapleton, the justice system found her competent to stand trial and allowed her to enter a plea deal related to child abuse rather than attempted murder. Imagine that, a child with a disability nearly loses her life and the justice system sees no wrong in lowering the charge to a lesser crime. It was not abuse – the crime was an attempt to end the life of a young girl. While some may suggest that the mother was overburdened by the demands of her daughter, the reality is, being overburden is not a license to kill. The same is true for the mother in Chicago. In the Lands case, the imprisonment of their two children was not seen as inhumane; calls for justice were nearly nonexistent with the exception of voices from the autism community.
As a society, we must demand that when violence occurs to those living with a disability, appropriate prosecution for the crime committed is the only acceptable response. We must view violence against individuals living with ASD and other disabilities as hate crimes and judge them as we would any other hate crime.
We must make sure that we value the dignity of all people – regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, marital status, or political affiliation. It is time to demand respect for all humankind and focus on improving the quality of life for everyone, including those living with autism.
Autism Society of America