For the last few months, New York City was filled with posters of a missing teenage boy with autism, Avonte Oquendo. This story affected everyone regardless of race, religion, gender or socio-economic status. A child was missing: A child with severe autism, who was non-verbal. Families of a child with special needs or anyone who works with children with special needs was affected even more.
My recent piece discussing what we could learn from Kellie Stapleton, a mother accused of trying to kill her daughter with autism and herself, inspired me to research other similar cases.
Here is what I found after a brief online search. This list is not comprehensive, and certainly can't begin to quantify the much larger number of caregivers who think about ending either their lives, or the lives of their children, or both.
Research has shown that mothers of children with autism have the highest rate of stress compared to parents of children with any other special needs. Recently, Kelli Stapleton, a mother of a 14-year-old daughter with autism, allegedly tried to kill herself and her child by using carbon monoxide poisoning. The police rescued them and Mrs. Stapleton is expected to be charged with attempted murder. The first question that comes to mind is: What exactly drove this woman to try and kill herself and her child?
I have always looked forward to attending synagogue services on Rosh Hashanah. Hearing the shofar often felt like a spiritual cleansing: a reminder that this was the time of year to think about your wrong doings and ask God for forgiveness.
According to a 2006 Harvard School of Public Health research study, the cost of raising a child with autism can range from $67,000 to $72,000 per year. Over a lifetime, an autistic person’s care will cost between $1.4 million to $3.1 million.
With the summer approaching, many parents have spent the last few months planning activities for their children. Some families choose to send their children to camp or specialized programs. Finding appropriate activities can be especially difficult for parents of children recently diagnosed with any special need. Parents should not feel as though they are going through the process alone, however, because there are probably mothers and fathers in the community who are eager to help.
As a doctoral candidate in developmental psychology doing research on Jewish parents of children with autism, I have found that many mothers and fathers interpret their child’s diagnosis in relation to God.
For my dissertation research, I have focused on studying Jewish parents of children with and without autism. During these interviews, many parents of children without autism discussed the importance of taking their child to services so that he or she could experience a Jewish environment. Parents of children with autism talked about how they often felt distressed when attending services with their child.
One of my favorite childhood memories is lighting Shabbat candles with my mom. It was my special job to say the blessing. It was amazing to know that on that same day, millions of other Jewish mothers all over the world were also lighting Shabbat candles with their daughters. I always knew that no matter what, I would make sure that I shared this same experience with my children.