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.
Yesterday, I defended my dissertation, which explored the role of religion on the daily livesof Jewish parents of children with autism. I am grateful both to the people who supported me through the years – my family, friends, classmates and professors – and also to the parents who participated in my research.
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?
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.