Sunday, September 13, 2009

Autism Reality Is Not Always Pretty

"Kicking Momma, Hurt Momma, Sad"

The comments above were reported to have been made by Sky Walker, severely autistic 18 year old, after being arrested for assaulting his mother, Kent State University professor Trudy Steuernagel, who died eight days later. This past week, as reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer , both defense and prosecution attorneys at a competency hearing for Sky Walker accepted an expert report which concluded that he was not competent to stand trial.

There will always be some persons with Aspergers or High Functioning Autism standing before a camera defining autism by reference to their personal circumstances. Claims will continue that historical geniuses from every walk of life were autistic. The latest keyboard technology or internet program will appear on Google searches as magic solutions for autism disorders. And of course there will be those who claim, despite the existence of autism disorders in the DSM and the ICD, that autism disorders are socially constructed disorders not medical disorders and some will continue to claim that autism disorders are not disorders at all. None of these accounts will deal with some of the harsher realities faced by the more severely autistic, including the harsh realities of Sky Walker and his deceased mother Trudy Steuernagel who, by all accounts that I have read, loved her son dearly and would not hold his actions against him.

Unfortunately it often takes tragic events like those involving Sky Walker and his mother to break through the media insistence on glorifying autism and catering to a minority who wish to portray autism as a difference not a disorder. The acceptance by defense and prosecution attorneys make it more likely that the trial judge hearing the case will rule that he is not competent to stand trial.

Fortunately for Sky Walker, and I suspect his departed mother would agree, the court is considering expert evidence of the realities of Sky Walker's autism ... not the feel good glossy version portrayed in Neurodiversity rhetoric and glossy media fantasies.

Autism reality is not always pretty.

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Kim McKay-White said...

This is so true. I am the mom of 7 year old twins; both on the spectrum one with Asbergers and the other severely autistic; our severely autistic son lashes out hits beats, punches....I often fear what it will be like when he is 17 and I am 57 or he is 27 and I am 67....It already hurts; yet he's small enough and young enough that we can restrain him and or calm him down and stop him...My greatest fear is what will happen when we can no longer care for him. Autism is not always pretty; it is a real disorder and this will not be the only case of a parent being killed by an autistic child unless our government faces the reality that we need more programmes and more residences for these children as they grow older...It's not pretty and it's a fact of life....a fact of my life anyway....

Speechie said...

May his mother rest in peace. And what will happen to Sky now that she is gone?

I think this brings up the important issue of appropriate support for families and especially families caring for an adult autistic family member. There is little to no support for families in desperate need of respite care, and very little in place for autistic adults once their parents have passed away or can no longer care for them.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your eloquent writing here and on Wellsphere. Violence is an issue. I remember worrying about my son's behavior when he was small. I worried about what would happen when the sturdy little boy grew up. Now he will be 17 soon. Large. " I am bigger and stronger than you are" he threatens. He puts up his fists and gets in my face.