Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Killer Within

DALLAS – A suburban Dallas woman accused of killing her two young children told a 911 operator that she first tried to poison them because they were autistic and she wanted "normal kids," then choked them with a wire until they stopped moving, according to the recorded call.

...When the operator asked the woman why she attacked her children, she said, "They're both not normal, not normal. They're autistic. Both are autistic." Pressed further, she said, "I don't want my children to be like that. ... I want normal kids."
Later, the dispatcher asked the woman what she was feeling. "Nothing," she responded.

Let me first get the obvious disclaimer out of the way: it is never ok to kill your children.  I can think of few instances in which it is acceptable to kill another person, family or otherwise.  Such behavior should be condemned and punished.

But.

Reading this horrific story, my heart broke for the murderer.

I can totally imagine the thought process that led this woman to strangle her own babies.  I picture her slogging through years of evaluations, treatments, meltdowns, quack cures.  I see her handling daily life with a child with autism as best she could, managing her son's needs by day and crying from the stress every night, praying for a "normal" one, then enduring the heartbreak of realizing her second child was also atypical.  She fears for her children's uncertain future.  She struggles with her children's competing needs.  Her marriage feels the strain.  She feels overwhelmed.  She feels alone.  She feels responsible.  She mourns the life she thinks she should have had - the typical life with typical kids and typical expectations.


Some behavior or meltdown or quirk sets her off.

She snaps.

The future is unfathomable.  She considers suicide, but knows there would be no one left to care for her babies.

So she kills the kids.


The difference between mental illness and mental health is not the presence or absence of dangerous urges: it's what you do with those destructive impulses.  No sane person would murder her children, but I think it would be insane not to feel impulses like that sometimes.

3 comments:

  1. I'll let the reviewer describe the book instead of rambling myself, but I feel in the context of this story that it's important for people - particularly parents - to know that having these sorts of troubling urges does not put you in danger of acting on them, as Lee Baer's research has shown. Cases such as this woman's, and Susan Smith's, are rare, and are not the result of the kind of obsessive bad thoughts that silently trouble many, many more people than you might expect.

    http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/159/11/1952-a

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  2. And M, your insight into this woman's state of mind, however speculative, is heartbreakingly acute. For me the tragedy is that she went without support long enough to destroy all three lives. Crime is crime and the law is the law, but who holds Society accountable for letting these three people fall so far through the cracks?

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  3. Right on M and Dave. Inevitably, the coverage of this crime will sensationalistically focus on the mother as a crazy monster. But I really wish a high-profile journalist would delve into the issues of lack of support and resources for families, the expense of it all, unrealistic expectations for how people should handle it emotionally, the whole cultural and social mess that surrounds autism.

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Keep it civil, people.