Wednesday 1 May 2013

Abandoning Autistic Son

Before you call people ... it wasn't me.

Amanda Telford dropped off her 19 year old severely autistic son at the offices of Developmental Services Ontario.  She and her husband are no longer able to care for him.  In the last week, he has wandered away from their home twice and swallowed enough pills to require a trip to the hospital.

The Telfords say they've done everything they can to take care of their son and Amanda Telford describes it as a "brutal decision" to give him over to the government.

I find myself looking at the story with both gut-wrenching sympathy and suspicion.  A quick glance through the comments shows I'm not alone in my mixed reactions.

Abandoning a child, for whatever reason, bothers me.  No matter how deeply isolated their son, he will eventually become upset at not seeing his parents any more.  I imagine him as being frightened, going through the upheaval of unexpected change.

On the other hand, I applaud people who know when to ask for help.  There have been many examples of families who didn't and those ones make headlines, too.  In 2012, a mother shot herself and her 22 year old autistic son.  In 2009, a father killed himself and his 11 year old autistic child.  And those are just the first two results in a google search.

I'm appalled that there isn't an alternative for families who are pushed to the breaking point.  A parent should not have to choose between complete abandonment and total responsibility (I don't include murder in the options).  There should be some kind of middle road available where families can get support but still remain involved.

I think the social image of the all-giving mother hurts us here.  And since we're busy trying to coax dads into the same give-until-you-fall model, I don't see it changing.  If you're taking care of a parent with Alzheimer's, there are respite services you can call to say that you need a break.  But there aren't services like this for children, small or adult.  Because that's part of the contract we apparently all signed when the pregnancy test came back positive: no matter what, parents are supposed to take care of their kids.

It's a frightening reality that parents of special needs children have to face.  There may not be an end date on our responsibilities.  Caring for children is exhausting but when there may not ever be a significant improvement, that's terrifying and demoralizing.  The truly insulting part is when we are berated for "not being positive" or "giving up" because we acknowledge this unspoken potential reality.

We like to believe in the inherent fairness of the universe.  If we do the right things, good results will follow.  But there may not be a magic combination which unlocks a miraculous recovery.  No matter what diets, therapy or medication we try, it might not be enough.  I think this is why the Telfords are receiving backlash.  If they've reached this point, it is seductive to believe they must have screwed up. 

But they might have done everything right and still ended up with less than nothing.

1 comment:

  1. "If they've reached this point, it is seductive to believe they must have screwed up."

    I guess I must not be feeling very seducible (?) right now, because I have fierce admiration for parents who carry on carrying on No Matter What, and no end of empathy for the ones who are seen to "quit" because there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that their breaking point is leagues beyond my own.