April is National Autism Awareness month.
Recently the dialogue around autism was shadowed by the story of a Bay area mother who killed her adult son and then killed herself. The executive director of their local autism center said, in part, about the situation: "...let me tell you," she said, "parents of kids with autism are under a terrific amount of stress. Many of these children don't sleep at night. They wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning, and one of the parents has to get up, because they need constant supervision. It's an exhausting experience."
Much of the commentary about the murder/suicide made much of how hard it is to parent a child with autism, how tiring and devastating it can be.
I have a great amount of empathy for any family living with autism. Yes, it can be tiring, frustrating, exhausting, challenging. And there are ranges of the spectrum. Many parents are dealing with issues like hyper-awake children who don't sleep, sensory issues, speech issues, basic personal care issues. Some parents have children who will likely not live independently. But autism is not a death sentence.
Living with autism is also joyous and amazing and marvelous. Our days are full of many successes and failures, large and small.
My son with autism is a loving, engaging, enjoyable little boy. He is also stubborn, devious, often riddled with anxiety and easily upset by things that neurotypical people don't understand.
My wish is that people would not excuse or over-empathize a horribly violent act by speaking about autism as if it were a valid excuse for murdering your child. I would suspect that the primary reason Elizabeth Hodgins killed her son and then herself had more to do with her own mental health issues than her son's autism.
Having a child diagnosed with autism does not mean that your life is over. It means that your life is going to be different, maybe more challenging in some ways but also perhaps more filled with opportunity to grow and appreciate your family's uniqueness.
This is the face of autism: