"The monster inside my son": Autism + Violence
March 27, 2009 1:56 PM   Subscribe

"The monster inside my son" A moving testimonial of a mother's struggle w/ her son's autism and violence. [SALON]
posted by cgs (94 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
How horrible. What a story.
posted by GuyZero at 2:17 PM on March 27, 2009


Her last essay on her son ended with a note of hopefulness, it's unsettling that even that has evaporated. I hope Mrs. Bauer and her family get all the help they need.
posted by Alison at 2:20 PM on March 27, 2009


I called the man who was supposed to be my son's psychiatrist to ask for an emergency appointment. Andrew was becoming dangerous, I told the nurse, and he was going to hurt someone.

"Becoming"? "Going to"? He'd already thrown the author across a room, broke an elderly woman's hand, and groped mentally handicapped women. I cannot understand why he was still allowed contact with people at that point. I have a lot of sympathy for the mentally ill, but he was clearly a danger to others.
posted by desjardins at 2:26 PM on March 27, 2009


Whoa. What a nightmare. I wonder if the Lupron will work - it's a chemical castration drug, but sounds preferable to her son's current uncontrollable rage.
posted by benzenedream at 2:40 PM on March 27, 2009


I was reading this earlier, and having had a small amount of experience with autistic people I can't help but notice the huge, angry elephant that's in the room that no one ever seems to want to talk about - which is sex. It's very skillfully avoided in Ann Bauer's essay, only approached topically, only as a manifestation of some kind of symptom rather than the expressions and desires of a living human being.

Why do people insist on treating autistic adults entirely like children? Take any human - autistic or not - and deny them the fundamentals to being a well rounded adult human being and it won't be long until they're throwing their own mother across the room too.

Do it to someone who already has very intense, uncontrollable emotions and then totally deny them any outlet for their sexual expression - possibly even including repression of and punishment for masturbation - and you have a perfect recipe for violence and/or severe depression.

"I'm bad now. I can feel it."

There's a backstory here not being addressed. Autistic people are frequently admonished and punished for attempting to express themselves sexually... for whose protection? Theirs? Perhaps partly, to protect them from predators and from the laws of the land about indecency. But more likely it is primarily for our own protection against mere discomfort.

So autistic people end up in limbo in our puritanical culture, unable to discern the differences in appropriateness between masturbating at home or in public, likely left confused about their sexuality, thinking all sexual feelings are inappropriate and then they're left with no outlet or expression.

All because we're uncomfortable with our own sexuality.

I'm not blaming Ann Bauer or pointing fingers at any parents of autistic children anywhere. I'm blaming our culture. This article is just a microcosmic example of symptoms that go on all around us, every day, to nearly everyone.
posted by loquacious at 2:43 PM on March 27, 2009 [32 favorites]


Freudian psychiatry for years blamed autism on the mothers, for failing to nurture the child, usually a son.
posted by longsleeves at 2:46 PM on March 27, 2009


There's a backstory here not being addressed. Autistic people are frequently admonished and punished for attempting to express themselves sexually... for whose protection? Theirs? Perhaps partly, to protect them from predators and from the laws of the land about indecency. But more likely it is primarily for our own protection against mere discomfort.

Loquacious,
I've got an uneasy feeling your comment - thoughtful though it is - has shot itself in the foot simply because you've attached it to this article.

Where does anyone begin - in this particular case - to address the discrete frustration you're talking about? How?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 2:55 PM on March 27, 2009


loquacious, wasn't there a controversial case recently where the parents had their child sterilized because he was retarded/ autistic? I recall they specifically stated that they wanted to prevent puberty and all the changes that would bring.
posted by boo_radley at 2:55 PM on March 27, 2009


I really don't mean to scoff at the author's pain and her son's tormet, because I'm sure it is real, but when I read this:

Huge and hairy -- a young man who grows a beard by twilight -- he suddenly became as withdrawn as he'd been at 4

after this:

12 to 17. Andrew aced algebra, became fluent in Spanish, played the cello in the school orchestra, and competed on weekends in tournament chess.

I spotted one problem - no sports. No demanding physical activity. She clearly acknowledges her son's manliness/beastliness, but was happier when his pursuits were more delicate.

People, particularly women like that author here, need to understand something about boys. It's cute to dismiss puberty as "raging hormones" as the phrase is commonly uttered. Testosterone takes males from slightly androgynous little boys and increases their muscles and bone size without any exercise. It makes them huge and hairy. That hormone basically rebuilds your plucky li'l tikes specifically to make them heavier, stronger, faster, taller, more resistant to pain, and quicker to heal from injury. In other words, the biological purpose of puberty in males is to enable them to have sex with females by literally beating the shit out of other competing males. Circle of life, etc.

That raging hormone testosterone allowed Alexander the Great to subdue an untameable horse, and then to ride that horse across the known world battling, conquering, or fucking everything and everyone in his way. The Illiad is about the rage of Achilles whose temper is only slightly cooled by ten years of a brutal war of attrition.

The chemical that made her son huge and hairy is taken by professional athletes to make them achieve feats of physical greatness that remain beyond the reach of their peers, despite decades of constant physical training and conditioning.

More to the point, people need to understand that testosterone is an anabolic steroid, and that boys experience "'roid rage" just like adults who take testosterone. In fact, they experience it worse, because the change is so dramatic. Some boys gets so angry, inexplicably, that they cry. How many mothers have stories about their son's shouting at them over the slightest perceived offense, throwing things or slamming doors when they are angry, losing control of their emotions etc, when just a few years earlier they were perfectly normal?

This isn't madness. This is Sparta.

Again, I understand that the author's son had a real mental illness, and I'm not suggesting that exercise can cure it. I am suggesting that mental illness coupled with the unpredictable effects of puberty on the emotional state of even the most normal of boys makes for a volatile condition, and at the very least one should try to mitigate the effects of the hormones so they don't compound the mental illness. If nothing else, the kid will expend his energy on the field, in the weight room, or on the heavy bag instead of at home.

People can't fear this. They have to understand that boys are naturally going to become more aggressive, and if that aggression finds no outlet in sex, sports, or physical labor, then the aggression becomes violence. You can't suppress it, you can't tell the kid to control himself because he is quite literally under the influence of a massively powerful substance. You can condition them to express this aggression in socially acceptable ways.
posted by Pastabagel at 3:10 PM on March 27, 2009 [34 favorites]


Its a heart-breaking story, more so because, as Alison points out those earlier essays of Bauer's have hope and optimism. There is little, if any, of that in this one.
posted by Fence at 3:13 PM on March 27, 2009


But again, I realize the author's son has a unique set of very specific mental problems, and I do feel very sorry for her and him that they've found no way to treat him.
posted by Pastabagel at 3:14 PM on March 27, 2009


Freudian psychiatry for years blamed autism on the mothers, for failing to nurture the child, usually a son. longsleeves

Bruno Bettelheim comes to mind. He called it the 'refrigerator mom' phenomenon. Research didn't back up his theories.

I know lots of adult autistics, including my brother, and don't know any that are even the slightest bit violent, so without any studies showing otherwise, we shouldn't look at this as anything but one special, tragic, case.
posted by eye of newt at 3:20 PM on March 27, 2009


I can't believe he wasn't medicated. I worked with people exactly like her son for years. I watched the ones who were denied medication by their parents go through bouts of random, enraged violence. I watched the ones with a responsible medication protocol become clear-headed, calm, and happy.

There's a second article about his adventures with medication, and this leapt out at me as well: "He told his dad about how he had to fight the bad thoughts that were crowding in his head. And when he wasn't out walking, he slept a lot -- around two-thirds of his life, in fact -- despite the fact that he drank 12 to 15 cups of coffee a day."

wat

Yeah I don't see why he was having problems, every adolescent I know who drinks a gallon of coffee a day is totally fine.

It seems pretty obvious that they wanted to be 'progressive' and deny him drugs which would cloud his mind. I worked with a very violent autistic man whose father refused to allow him any psychiatric medication at all. Despite the biting (being bitten by a grown man is not fun), punching, kicking, sexual assault, wildly erratic sleep patterns, and on and on. I worked with a man with schizoaffective disorder and had severe behavior problems. He had a long history of violence. A month into treatment with Clozaril he was a different person: auditory hallucinations gone, violent episodes gone, he was a new man. I had no preconceived notions about the effectiveness of medication when I started working with people with developmental disabilities. By the end, however, I came away with the opinion that parents who deny their kids much-needed, strong psychiatric medication are no better than those who beat their kids.
posted by mullingitover at 3:27 PM on March 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


sadly, i doubt we will graced by silentmiaow's incomparable perspective on this...
posted by progosk at 3:32 PM on March 27, 2009


I can't believe he wasn't medicated.

He was medicated. The second article you mention precedes the article in the FPP. Before he was medicated, he was depressive. He didn't have the violent thoughts or the compulsive coffee-drinking until after he was started on atypical anti-psychotics, and the writer seems to believe that the drugs in question made a bad problem worse.
I should note, here, that the correlation of him going on meds and getting worse could be a coincidence, and that even if that's not the case, he probably should be on some kind of medication, but psychopharmacology is still very much an inexact science, and what works great for one individual can have no effect on the next, for reasons we still haven't quite figured out yet.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:36 PM on March 27, 2009


A couple of years ago, we had a neighbor with an autistic son. They had him on Benadryl for a while, and then on pretty heavy anti-psychotics at one point. He kept on having violent outbursts, and she didn't know what to do and for a long time she really didn't want to admit how much of a problem it was. She got mad at her boyfriend when he called the cops once while the kid (who was 14, and really big for his age) was beating her up pretty bad, and then the cops wouldn't do anything because she said not to - even though they could see what was going on. Last I heard from her she had agreed to let him be hospitalized, but she didn't know what would happen long term.
posted by dilettante at 3:40 PM on March 27, 2009


Pastabagel: That was beautiful! It made me want to see "300" again.
posted by No Robots at 3:44 PM on March 27, 2009


Here's the case I was referring to in response to Loquacious. It's not analogous; the girl, Ashley, was born with what the article terms "severe disabilities" without going into detals.
posted by boo_radley at 3:44 PM on March 27, 2009


I was reading this earlier, and having had a small amount of experience with autistic people I can't help but notice the huge, angry elephant that's in the room that no one ever seems to want to talk about - which is sex. It's very skillfully avoided in Ann Bauer's essay, only approached topically, only as a manifestation of some kind of symptom rather than the expressions and desires of a living human being.

Why do people insist on treating autistic adults entirely like children? Take any human - autistic or not - and deny them the fundamentals to being a well rounded adult human being and it won't be long until they're throwing their own mother across the room too.
Huh? If a person doesn't get some booty, then after a while they will throw their own mother across the room? Literally, mind you?

How long, approximately, do you think, before it reaches that point? For the typical person?
There's a backstory here not being addressed. Autistic people are frequently admonished and punished for attempting to express themselves sexually... for whose protection? Theirs?
The man in question was making unwanted sexual advances - including physical ones - on women. Frequently. Then, when one of them rebuffed his grabass or whatever for the "eight thousandth time in a day", he choked her until she passed out. Or, more accurately, he choked her until other people were able to stop him, by which time she had passed out.

So I would say, at least in this case, no, it's not for his own protection.
posted by Flunkie at 3:44 PM on March 27, 2009 [18 favorites]


Before he was medicated, he was depressive. He didn't have the violent thoughts or the compulsive coffee-drinking until after he was started on atypical anti-psychotics, and the writer seems to believe that the drugs in question made a bad problem worse.

This can be common with bipolar people, especially adolescent and post-adolescent males who are emotionally volatile to begin with. The problem isn't medication per se. The problem is that the introduction of new medication can produce a jarring switch from a depressive state to a manic state. This manic state can lead to the anger, violent thoughts, and sleeplessness you describe. The solution isn't to take away the medication, but to use new medications in conjunction with a mood stabilizer that inhibits the jarring changes in mood.
posted by jonp72 at 3:55 PM on March 27, 2009


I think I know Ann. Not closely, but I edit the discussion forum for Secrets of the City, when an Ann Bauer has been a food critic for years, and we have met once or twice at SOTC (then The Rake Magazine) functions.

This story is horrifying, and I feel just terrible for her.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:56 PM on March 27, 2009


I have an autistic son, aged 6.

I read this article yesterday, and recognized much of it.

But clearly, there's some other mental illness going on here that is far outside the normal, expected realm of autism. This poor kid sounds schizophrenic, on top of anything else.

I'm always surprised when I hear stories like this. How can you accept autism but not accept that something else is happening, too?

It seems pretty obvious that they wanted to be 'progressive' and deny him drugs which would cloud his mind. ... I came away with the opinion that parents who deny their kids much-needed, strong psychiatric medication are no better than those who beat their kids.

Indeed.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:03 PM on March 27, 2009


There's a backstory here not being addressed. Autistic people are frequently admonished and punished for attempting to express themselves sexually... for whose protection? Theirs? ... Take any human - autistic or not - and deny them the fundamentals to being a well rounded adult human being and it won't be long until they're throwing their own mother across the room too.

DUDE.

It seems hypocritical of me to castigate someone for sitting back and throwing out silly, ill-informed opinions from the safety of the interwebs. I'm certain that I've been guilty of doing that.

But ... DUDE. Wow. You don't know anything about the spectrum to come up with that one...

/me walks away, shaking head
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:07 PM on March 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


Huh? If a person doesn't get some booty, then after a while they will throw their own mother across the room? Literally, mind you?

How long, approximately, do you think, before it reaches that point? For the typical person?


A TYPICAL person? Huh. Who knows? It doesn't really matter, because this is not a typical person.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:08 PM on March 27, 2009


I've sorry. I've framed my argument poorly and dramatically and I'm too involved in work at the moment to reframe it better. I'm not saying all people would react this way, but plenty of non-autistic ones would. Please visit your local federal pen for examples.

But from my experiences actually talking to autistic people sex (and the lack of it) is a huge big deal.

Also, a while ago I sent silentmiaow a message on YouTube about this thread inviting participation.
posted by loquacious at 4:25 PM on March 27, 2009


What lovely women get nominated to have sex with raging uncontrollable autistics? Would anyone not looking to harm themselves ever want to go there?
posted by marble at 4:32 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I wanted to tell her I would hack off my right arm in return for something as simple as cancer

This makes me cry.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:34 PM on March 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


Interesting point, CPB, but the coincidence of schizophrenia and autism is very very rare and some postulate that they are pathologies on opposite, extreme, ends of a common spectrum of variability. There's not enough evidence to absolutely convince me, though, but it's very likely that there's a comorbidity to the autism.

As for sexual frustration in people on the extreme end of autism spectrum disorders - the problem is that, while a 'normal' person can understand what their urges are and that they are party to a social contract that prohibits one from taking sexual gratification from people who don't want to yield it to you, the autistic person has a much less firm grasp on what (and possibly even why) the common social contract is.

In undergrad at a small private school, I was around a highly autistic (but mostly functional) young man who was very tall and strong. During his second year, he started making extremely physical overt sexual advances towards girls and could not understand why he wasn't allowed to and this sometimes would lead to outbreaks of violence. Eventually, his parents pulled him out of school. I have no idea what his situation was afterwards.
posted by porpoise at 4:35 PM on March 27, 2009


Marble: I'm sure I've heard of prostitutes who specialize in such things.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:36 PM on March 27, 2009


Cool Papa Bell: "But clearly, there's some other mental illness going on here that is far outside the normal, expected realm of autism. This poor kid sounds schizophrenic, on top of anything else.

I'm always surprised when I hear stories like this. How can you accept autism but not accept that something else is happening, too?
"

Because it isn't, in this case, or at least they haven't figured out what it is. "Surely he had a brain tumor, a seizure disorder, or a delusional condition such as schizophrenia... But the psychiatrist assigned to my son said no. The MRI was clean; the EEG normal. The doctor's specialty happened to be schizophrenia, and he saw none of the signs."
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:37 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


What lovely women get nominated to have sex with raging uncontrollable autistics?

Why is the first assumption is to institutionalize sex and the second that all autistic people are violent? I'm not proposing therapeutic brothels or anything. I'm proposing that adult, functioning autistic people are capable of making their own educated decisions about sex, which is apparently taboo to discuss.
posted by loquacious at 4:39 PM on March 27, 2009


loquacious, did you even read the story? This person is clearly not able to make educated decisions about sex. He tried to choke to death a woman who rebuffed him.

Seriously, you're someone I respect, and you're freaking me out a bit.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:52 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why is the first assumption is to institutionalize sex and the second that all autistic people are violent?

I'm not quite sure what you mean by institutionalizing sex, but I did not say nor mean that *all* autistics are violent. I was talking only about the ones of the type mentioned in the article, the ones filled with violent uncontrollable rage.

The calm ones would have much less of a difficult time finding a willing partner to sate their sexual urges.
posted by marble at 4:55 PM on March 27, 2009


From her last essay on her son, mentioned by Alison:

"Often, he would talk back to the people who were speaking to him inside his head, telling him to do things."


And then:

"Surely he had a brain tumor, a seizure disorder, or a delusional condition such as schizophrenia... But the psychiatrist assigned to my son said no. The MRI was clean; the EEG normal. The doctor's specialty happened to be schizophrenia, and he saw none of the signs."

Perhaps a second or third opinion is called for, then.
posted by HopperFan at 5:00 PM on March 27, 2009


This article is an exploitative piece of shit. Really? Someone using "Beware" in that sense in the vernacular? Angelic psychiatrists? Jesus fucking Christ. This is so soaked in melodrama a the expense of evidence that it's essentially a propaganda piece.

Can I believe that autism can comorbid with antisocial personality problems? Sure - lots of things are. (Because it's, y'know, *stressful* to live with an intellectual disability.) But the aim of this piece of shit is to convince you that if you don't believe in a strong, strong correlation, you must have no sympathy. What emotionally manipulative garbage.

Goddamn. I have a son with autism. How will this (and if this goes really viral I'm sure there will be a flood of copycat stories) influence the social climate around him? I don't know. I don't know what I would do in her situation either, except that I wouldn't be portraying him as a hairy were-monster for some fucking lucre via Salon.com.
posted by mobunited at 5:04 PM on March 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm proposing that adult, functioning autistic people are capable of making their own educated decisions about sex, which is apparently taboo to discuss.

Err, I don't think the son in the story is functioning by any stretch of the definition. I'm not sure why you're inferring that "sex among autistic people is taboo to discuss" - perhaps this is a knee-jerk reaction in other places but it hasn't been that evident in this thread.

The story mentions that the son was selling his possessions for sex early on, and doesn't discuss whether or not he was masturbating, but it's a fair bet that he wasn't getting tasered when reaching for his junk. The problem is not the sex in the story, it's the violence in pursuit of it. The mother would probably be happy as a clam to see her son shacking up with someone in a consensual relationship without violence, or just watching a lot of porn.
posted by benzenedream at 5:05 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


On reading more of her earlier article, I guess she got plenty of opinions.

"Then we drove to Rochester to meet with the nine practitioners who'd been called in to assess our son. It was an interesting case, they told us -- and instructive. Within three days, they'd performed a series of medical tests and evaluations, determining that our son was neither schizophrenic nor psychotic. He was autistic, exhausted, improperly medicated, borderline diabetic, and simply stuck."
posted by HopperFan at 5:09 PM on March 27, 2009


From the article:
"Once during this phase, he beat me. A neighbor heard me screaming and called 911. But I blamed this on the drugs."
and this:
"I went into his room, took some clothes from the closet, handed them to him. And hinting at what he was about to do only with a small sigh, as if to say, "I've had enough," my son picked me up and threw me across the room.

I had three broken ribs and a bit of damage to my liver that made my doctor fret. Still, who among us hasn't wanted to toss our mother across the room when she's nattering on and making cheerful sounds in the morning?"
and finally this:
For years I had been telling my son's story, insisting that autism is beautiful, mysterious, perhaps even evolutionarily necessary.
I'm sorry, but this article reads like deluded fool of parent who put everyone else at risk, even her other children, just so she could indulge her fantasies and wishes until she's finally had some sense literally knocked into her. Her irresponsible behavior put lives at risk, repeatedly, because she failed, repeatedly, to do what was necessary and put her son away. My sympathies are few.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:12 PM on March 27, 2009 [14 favorites]


Still, who among us hasn't wanted to toss our mother across the room when she's nattering on and making cheerful sounds in the morning?

Yeah, she sounds like she needs some psych meds of her own if she thinks this is normal for anyone.
posted by desjardins at 5:24 PM on March 27, 2009


Do it to someone who already has very intense, uncontrollable emotions and then totally deny them any outlet for their sexual expression - possibly even including repression of and punishment for masturbation - and you have a perfect recipe for violence and/or severe depression.

He started doing all this violence after he began having sex:

He'd quit progressing in school, but now my son soaked up new information like a toddler learning to talk. Every placement in a succeedingly tougher environment gave him new skills. He shoplifted like a pro, traded his belongings for sexual favors, and dined and dashed so often some local restaurants had his picture posted in their kitchen under the words, "Don't serve this man." I told myself at least he was thinking, making his own bad choices, experiencing adult consequences. A part of me was even proud.

But he'd also quit reading, conversing, learning people's names, or keeping track of the day of the week. He ate like some gnashing beast: stuffing food into his mouth until his cheeks bulged and food dribbled out onto his clothes. And after moving to the rural group home selected by a judge because it was miles from restaurants or businesses where he could steal, Andrew morphed again, the warty monster from a Grimm fairy tale, demolishing everything in his path.


If you can believe for a moment a man like this-- who thinks the entire world is 'I want, I want.... TAKE' without regard for any convention or the feelings of any other human, and is compelled to do anything that crosses his mind to do-- is not expressing himself sexually on any person, animal, or object in his power, I don't know how to help you.

Here is his behavior on Christmas Day:

He went on to attack several staff members at the group home, grope the mentally handicapped young women who attended his transition program, and finally to accost his 14-year-old sister right in front of my eyes.

It was Christmas Day. I watched him enter the room and fix his gaze on my daughter. Then he rushed her, and I screamed. My husband -- two inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter -- somehow intercepted Andrew and knocked him to the ground. After he had been escorted from our family dinner in restraints, we sat at a table heaped with food growing cold, where my elderly parents wept and my daughter shook silently.


This puts her shrimpy husband at about 210, as opposed to Andrew's 260, by the way. She uses the word accost for the sake of her family, I suspect, but her estimate of his intent is plain enough.


I spotted one problem - no sports. No demanding physical activity.

There is a gaping hole right in the center of this assertion, Pastabagel. This was the period when he was relatively normal, and not violent. Intense physical activity promotes violence and leads to greatly increased capacity to perform it. If you doubt this, I invite you to go to a miner's or lumberjack's bar and look into someone's eyes just a second too long. You'll find it educational.

This isn't madness. This is Sparta.

Totally wrong: Sparta was coordinated discipline, perfected self-control, and ant-like self-sacrifice for the good of the whole. Andrew Bauer is a berserker straight out of the Sagas.
posted by jamjam at 5:33 PM on March 27, 2009 [9 favorites]


I suspect that there is some comorbid illness here, maybe bipolar disorder, but owing to the well-documented hazards of LDD (long-distance diagnosis), and my lack of experience in autism and related disorders, I say only that Ms. Bauer should continue to investigate, and if she's not getting results for her son, try something different–get a second and a third medical opinion, look for patterns/triggers in the son's behavior, and try to spend time with her son in neutral, non-threatening environments. And, unfortunately, she shouldn't trust him as far as she can throw him.
posted by Mister_A at 5:47 PM on March 27, 2009


Still, who among us hasn't wanted to toss our mother across the room when she's nattering on and making cheerful sounds in the morning?

After her blunt confession of years of self-delusion, I'm taking this comment as a bitter, self-mocking comment. I don't think she actually ever believed this was normal behaviour.
posted by maudlin at 5:50 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you doubt this, I invite you to go to a miner's or lumberjack's bar and look into someone's eyes just a second too long. You'll find it educational.

Yes, because the bars you frequent are bastions of tolerance where no one would ever DREAM of judging a person by their profession.

Oh wait...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:08 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I spotted one problem - no sports. No demanding physical activity.

Another problem here: people on the spectrum tend to not do very well with team-related activities. Physical activity, sure. Sports? No way.
posted by drinkcoffee at 6:12 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


"because she failed, repeatedly, to do what was necessary and put her son away"


My husband and I have very carefully watched our head-injury-schizophrenic son for the emergence of symptoms that would make him a danger to others, and we continue to do so. Just in case, we tried to be prepared parents, searching for decent and, at the same time, affordable psychiatric hospitals for long term treatment.

There aree 593 psychiatric hospital beds available here in Oklahoma, for over a million people with mental illness. The vast majority are for short term stay, to start or adjust medication. One hospital is for the criminally insane, with the patients placed by the courts, after a trial. The only long term hospital is always full, with a waiting list, and even that is for only few months duration of stay.

We investigated substance abuse hospitals, but we found none that would accept people with a mental illness. We found a private hospital, but so expensive that we could only afford six or so months by exhausting all our resources.

We have tried to deal with the sexual aspects of growing up by being open, by talking frankly about boundaries of what is acceptable or not, by encouraging masturbation etc. We are relieved that there is no sign of violence, and that he has a social life.

The law, and in my opinion it is a very good law, is there to protect him from unwarranted and unwanted commitment. Realistically thus he can only be confined if and when he commits a crime. I believe sincerely that he will not do violence, but my secret fear and worry is what will happen to him if he does.
posted by francesca too at 6:19 PM on March 27, 2009 [13 favorites]


Pastabagel, your diagnosis comes awfully close to blaming his mom for the extent of his illness. She's a woman! She can't understand what a man needs to be a man! Her kid excelled at Algebra, Spanish, cello and chess, because that's what he excelled at. Different activities wouldn't have changed a prognosis this severe.

I have a teenaged son not much younger than Andrew. Tonight he got mad at something his dad and I were teasing him about, and he said "fuck fuck fuck you fuck fuck you fuck you" and walked off. I laughed, because I remember saying the same thing to my dad almost exactly the same way 30 years ago. The Monster Inside My Son isn't about that.
posted by zinfandel at 6:23 PM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yes, because the bars you frequent are bastions of tolerance where no one would ever DREAM of judging a person by their profession.

Oh wait...


No doubt I would be devastated by this if I could just make out what you mean. Guidance, please?

In case you could use some yourself, and because Churchill quotations are having a brief spring fashion fling on Metafilter:

We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.


And just to be clear, I know Andrew Bauer's problems more from the inside than the outside.
posted by jamjam at 6:30 PM on March 27, 2009


I knew she was thinking of something like leukemia and I wanted to tell her I would hack off my right arm in return for something as simple as cancer. The flickering beauty of a sad, pure, too-early death sounds lovely.

This pissed me off. No one suffers as much as she does, apparently. I felt for her until these lines came up. I'm sure all those parents with children dead or dying of cancer really appreciate hearing about the simplicity and beauty of their devastation.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:36 PM on March 27, 2009 [9 favorites]


I think her reaction is due to myopia. When you are experiencing problem A, problem B looks like a cakewalk, relatively speaking. I didn't really take her statement seriously.
posted by marble at 6:44 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Still, who among us hasn't wanted to toss our mother across the room when she's nattering on and making cheerful sounds in the morning?

After her blunt confession of years of self-delusion, I'm taking this comment as a bitter, self-mocking comment. I don't think she actually ever believed this was normal behaviour."

That's how I read it too.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:49 PM on March 27, 2009


...after moving to the rural group home selected by a judge because it was miles from restaurants or businesses where he could steal,...

But there was nowhere else for him... We were financially tapped out and the state would not pay for vocational training until Andrew turned 21. Transition school was the only choice.

He'd been in there for a couple of hours and the medics just kept driving; they couldn't stop because all the psych wards were full.


To my eyes, this largely serves to highlight how deplorable mental health care is in this country. Why was there no place for this guy to go? Why was he living in a situation where the only thing he was learning was how to shoplift? Why was proximity to steal-able stuff the judge's primary selection criterion when selecting a group home? Why wasn't Bauer able to make an emergency appointment with his (or any) psychiatrist? Why did those EMTs have to drive around for TEN HOURS before finally dropping him in the ER? Why did he then have to wait around for another three before being taken care of?

It's the ambulance episode that really sums it all up, for me: here's somebody who is so dangerous he has to be sedated and restrained, and there is literally no place for him to go, so they just drive in circles. The situation is almost comical until you realize how unbearably tragic it is, because it's never going to end. Even if Andrew manages to get ensconced somewhere that's helpful (or at least not harmful) for him, there aren't enough beds in those places for everyone to get one. Some people are always going to be left out. It's the world's most fucked up game of musical chairs, and no one seems to know to make it stop.
posted by Commander Rachek at 7:13 PM on March 27, 2009 [11 favorites]


I'm sorry, but this article reads like deluded fool of parent who put everyone else at risk, even her other children, just so she could indulge her fantasies and wishes until she's finally had some sense literally knocked into her. Her irresponsible behavior put lives at risk, repeatedly, because she failed, repeatedly, to do what was necessary and put her son away. My sympathies are few.

Jesus fucking Christ on a cracker. So you personally have dealt with a violent adult autistic child, then, and knew exactly what and how to treat that child from birth, huh? Never made a mistake, never got a wrong diagnosis, never felt helpless and confused? No, of course you haven't. Because if you had, you wouldn't come shit on this thread and display your own complete lack of human empathy or basic compassion. When it's your son, your child, when you have to face the horror this woman has gone through, come back and say something. Fuck.

Raising a severely handicapped kid, especially a kid with a mental handicap, is heartbreaking in just about every sense of the word; losing your hope for them, going crazy in wondering what will happen to them when you're gone, facing the ridiculous lack of resources available even for a well-insured family--it's a nightmare. No parent comes out of that without making mistakes and bearing scars. Some of those scars come from the ill-informed and judgemental bullshit of comments like yours.
posted by emjaybee at 7:41 PM on March 27, 2009 [12 favorites]


The added insult on top of the injury is there is no 'away' to put her son to.

Why else was he circling sedated in an ambulance for hours?

Tragedy doesn't even begin to describe this.
posted by Space Kitty at 7:58 PM on March 27, 2009


(To be clear - I'm protesting the lack of viable & effective treatment options, not the lack of a 'throw away the key' facilities.)

My heart breaks for these folks, and I'm reminded again how (randomly) fortunate I am.
posted by Space Kitty at 8:03 PM on March 27, 2009


Raising a severely handicapped kid, especially a kid with a mental handicap, is heartbreaking in just about every sense of the word;

No sane person would disagree with the above statement but that doesn't make the constant excuses she made for her son's violent actions ok.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:06 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


So this mother is the problem because she didn't let her son play sports and wouldn't arrange for a prostitute to fulfill his sexual needs? Way to go, Metafilter!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:39 PM on March 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


People can't fear this. They have to understand that boys are naturally going to become more aggressive, and if that aggression finds no outlet in sex, sports, or physical labor, then the aggression becomes violence. You can't suppress it, you can't tell the kid to control himself because he is quite literally under the influence of a massively powerful substance. You can condition them to express this aggression in socially acceptable ways.

I personally think more people should get into sports and athletics. I've become a fitness junkie in the past few years and my life is just so much better and enjoyable. I really wish I had done more sports as a kid. Exercise is a natural antidepressant, so I'm sure it wouldn't have hurt. But I doubt it would have helped all that much. Plenty of sports freaks get violent.

Also, it is possible that this kid would have ended up violent even without the autism, or if he had multiple mental issues going on. Lots of non-autistic people have problems being violent.

He was medicated. The second article you mention precedes the article in the FPP. Before he was medicated, he was depressive. He didn't have the violent thoughts or the compulsive coffee-drinking until after he was started on atypical anti-psychotics, and the writer seems to believe that the drugs in question made a bad problem worse.

You never know, sometimes drugs do make people violent (or chimps, in the case of that chimp on xanax). Chantix (the anti-smoking drug) gives people violent thoughts, and I think there are studies linking antidepressants to suicide.

What lovely women get nominated to have sex with raging uncontrollable autistics? Would anyone not looking to harm themselves ever want to go there?

Hookers?

There is a gaping hole right in the center of this assertion, Pastabagel. This was the period when he was relatively normal, and not violent. Intense physical activity promotes violence

Uh, do you have a citation for this? "Lumberjacks" may or may not be violent, but that may have more to do with their culture then the fact that they are physically active. It certainly does make you stronger and thus more dangerous.

To my eyes, this largely serves to highlight how deplorable mental health care is in this country. Why was there no place for this guy to go?

This woman obviously had a ton of resources available to her, and took her son to lots of different doctors. Just imagine what would have happened if she'd been poor (well, we know what would have happened, her son would be in jail)
posted by delmoi at 9:02 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm stunned by the harsh judgments in this thread. I find there are certainly problematic aspects to this article, but some people don't seem to have read the article with attention and are leaping to unwarranted conclusions and blaming this poor woman unfairly.

Sometimes Metafilter repels me with its snakepit-like atmosphere, and this is one of these times.
posted by orange swan at 9:27 PM on March 27, 2009 [7 favorites]


Quite. A lot is necessarily left out in a story like this. The author omits something which the critical reader might find exculpatory, the editor sexes the story up.

What I learned from this post is that having an autistic child really is extraordinarily hard, that the nice stories are counterbalanced by heart-rending disaster, and that there are a lot people on Metafilter who are quick to judge.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:50 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I do have some education and experience regarding autism, thus I feel compelled to share my thoughts on this issue.
My heart goes out to the mother, for obvious reasons. Clearly, this woman has suffered a great deal as a result of the challenges she's experienced with her son. My heart also goes out to her son, as he clearly has some issues that have gone unaddressed to have reached this point.
One concern I have is that this level of violence and criminal activity is not even remotely the norm for individuals on the spectrum, especially not in cases of high functioning autism. The woman reports having found dozens of articles regarding individuals on the spectrum engaging in behaving in violent behaviors. When one considers the scope of the World Wide Web, that really is an infinitesmally small number. Generally speaking, this sort of behavior is not a symptom of autism spectrum conditions.
This leads me to believe that there is something else going on, that this young man has another mental health condition in addition to the autism, possibly some sort of a personality disorder. I suppose it's all too convenient to blame the preexisting condition, when further investigation is clearly warranted.
This article raised other red flags for me as well. An individual with special needs really should be able to participate in the process of creating his/ her own treatment plan, to the greatest extent his/ her age and mental capacity allows. As a legal adult of average or above average intelligence, this young man should have been consulted regarding his treatment. As far as I could tell, that did not seem to be happening. He did talk about how he doesn't like "being caged." That alone does not even remotely justify his behavior, but it may have contributed.
There are a host of other issues that demand to be addressed; the failure of the system in providing support for mother and son alike, the communication difficulties that may have contributed to this young man's behavior (communication is one of the core challenges in autism spectrum conditions, even when language skills are technically proficient), and the fact that his treatment plan should have undergone a complete revision as soon as there were signs that his behavior was changing for the worse. However, this has already become very long winded, so I won't get into that.
It really is unfortunate that the situation was allowed to escalate to this degree. I hope that things start improving for this family soon, and that not too much irreversible damage has been done.
posted by edupoet81 at 10:03 PM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Some percentage of the population ends up being classified as the criminally insane; they're wired to do harm. Some of them go through a long cycle of diagnoses, therapy and medication and are incorrigible and inevitably end up killing and raping.
It sounds like her son ended up in that category despite her doing everything she could to help him. I can only imagine what that is like for a mother.

It's easy to sit in judgement behind your browser instead of living this for years as a parent.
But then that's what internet fora are about; nerds sitting in judgement. So your lack of empathy is as to be expected.
posted by jouke at 10:09 PM on March 27, 2009


It's easy to sit in judgment because parents are not supposed to portray their children as inhuman *things* for money.
posted by mobunited at 10:14 PM on March 27, 2009


This story is not a tragedy yet. Andrew and his mother are still alive. She has disclosed the story in the hope that it will help people like Andrew. So she still has hope. I have no doubt she could have made the same amount of money writing a different story.
posted by kindalike at 10:18 PM on March 27, 2009


This thread is really disappointing. It disgusts me how everyone seems to read an article like this, give an appropriate pause of respect, and then proceed to point out all the things they can see about the situation that the author clearly doesn't, everything she's doing wrong. Or gets really angry about some minor quibble in a long drawn out tragedy spanning years which allows them to dismiss the entire story and its author.

This is an excellent story, well told in excruciating detail. The author is aware of her painful subjectivity and compensates for it as best as she can, but in her heart she knows this is simply about telling her story. And of course she can't include every single detail about his treatment and her reasoning, because then it wouldn't be a very good story. I'm really glad I got to absorb this at full strength and sit with it for a while before peeking in here at the smarty-pants party going on. I hope that the author never comes across this thread.
posted by hermitosis at 10:24 PM on March 27, 2009 [18 favorites]


mobunited, you must have read a different story than I did. Maybe you're playing for favorites, maybe you really believe that. I dunno. Her portray wasn't of her son as an inhuman thing, but as a complex, flawed person. He's clearly feeling regret and shame over his actions, and tries to warn his mother about his outburst and attack because at some level, he cares for her.

His actions are shocking, and when shocking actions are described in a detached manner, they tend to come across as monstrous.
posted by boo_radley at 10:35 PM on March 27, 2009


And I can say that as a parent of a relatively normal 3 year old, he does enough stuff that just mystifies me outright, and I can have normal conversations about his feelings and motives. It's very difficult for me to imagine what a trial fathoming the intents of an autistic child must be like.
posted by boo_radley at 10:42 PM on March 27, 2009


I think I've done a really poor job of framing my argument. I'm not singling out anyone. I'm not saying autistic people are any more or less sexual than anyone else - and autism isn't a free pass for threatening or inappropriate behavior and acting out as presented in the FPP.

The article made me cry, too. I feel for Ann Bauer. I'm not coming from an uncompassionate place at all, and I insist I'm coming from a more compassionate place than people are giving me credit for.

I'm trying to speak up and point out that I've noticed (and discussed with autistic adults) the unhealthy attitudes towards sex that many autistic children and adults face from their caregivers, and that I think autistic and other cognitively different people get a lot of stress and flack over the issue.

I think that it's an issue that begins - like many of our issues begin - at puberty and that this clinical denial of sexuality of the cognitively disabled is a much larger problem than people are willing to acknowledge and discuss, and that this unwillingness is harmful to autistic people. I think that this stress accumulates and you end up with unbridled aggression and violence and other forms of lashing out and acting out.

And to be clear, it's an extremely complicated issue that often mirrors and reflects the issues of non-autistic people in often uncomfortable ways. I'm not making absolute blanket statements. Autistic or not, some people are violent whether they're being oppressed or repressed or not, whether or not the oppression is sexual.

I can't help but read this article and read that Andrew sounds like he could be any normally rebellious teenage son who discovered that - contrary to familial warnings - drink and drugs and sex and rock and roll feel really good and are a lot of fun and became conflicted with the messages they were being taught just like any other teen - but more chaotically, perhaps more dangerously and with less awareness and self-preservation.

There's usually a lot of stress involved in integrating these conflicting experiential and social messages, not to mention learning to act upon them and enjoy them in a healthy and balanced manner. I had a hell of a time with it. As hedonistic as I am, I still do, and I only had a marginally oppressive religious upbringing. I'm terrified to think of what 18 or 19 feels like with autism and "raging hormones". I really hate that phrase, it's much to Victorian.

Frankly, a lot of people on this mean and weird little planet "act out" when they're lives are deeply unfulfilled and unbalanced. I'm earnestly surprised and confused why pointing this out makes me somehow mean or impoverished of spirit.
posted by loquacious at 11:36 PM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Andrew sounds like he could be any normally rebellious teenage son

Who sexually attacked his sister in front of his parents? Seriously, are you insane?
posted by lumpenprole at 1:17 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seriously, are you insane?

Ah, no, but I appear to be having a hard time not tripping linguistic landmines for people all over the map and making myself clear. This is the problem with trying to discuss taboos is that it tends to trigger a lot of reactions.

I'm not saying attacking one's sister is normative for a rebellious teen. I'm saying acting out is normal. Obviously the situation is out of hand and not normative.

And I have well more than a buck and a half in this thread. I'm bowing out, because I'm having issues making myself as clear as I would like to be on a touchy subject that is held in context of a heartfelt essay.
posted by loquacious at 2:10 AM on March 28, 2009


mobunited, you must have read a different story than I did. Maybe you're playing for favorites, maybe you really believe that. I dunno. Her portray wasn't of her son as an inhuman thing, but as a complex, flawed person.

I read such compassionate prose as "When I asked him why he did these things he would say, eyes narrow like a night creature, "I don't like being caged.""

or this:

"My son reportedly leapt on her -- his 260-pound body surprisingly nimble -- one hand around her throat, choking her, and the other in her mouth, pressing down, cutting off her air two different ways. It took four men to pull him off and by this time the girl had passed out."

Think about this with some level of critical thinking. How can she know he was "surprisingly nimble" from a second hand report, or get an idea of the events that hangs together in such a . . . writerly . . . fashion? Let me give you a hint as a working writer and someone who *has* actually worked with adults with behavioural problems. She's *elaborating on the truth* because she wasn't fucking there and was not likely to know enough to construct a vivid para without that.

(Oh, and by the way, this method isn't new to Ann Bauer. She already admits to spicing up the truth in her book about him)

Let me give you another hint. Nobody says:

""Beware," he said through ragged breaths. "I'm bad now, I can feel it. I can't help the things I do.""

Think: How often to you hear "Beware," heading of a sentence like that? Maybe some high school drama majors do it. And newly christened writers aiming for the growing kidfear niche.

We can be very tolerant with artistic license. That tolerance ends when it's used to advance this kind of shitty personal and perhaps social agenda. Using your artistic license to make your kids look like monsters is fucked up, no matter what they do. Is there any -- *any* justification for making them sound even worse? Using that as a jumping off point to kinda-sorta tell people that autistic kids are ticking time bombs is disgustingly offensive. I have no doubt Andrew did bad things. I do doubt that Anne Rice-ean dialogue issued from his mouth. I doubt he was a powerful were-man, because the drugs he was on were more likely to make him extremely fat (and hungry all the time - that's one reason *why* people on antipsychotics get fat), like many of the people I met when I worked in adult literacy. Like them, he was probably in serious discomfort. Apparently though, Ms. Bauer didn't feel like mentioning that the weight and gluttony were drug effects, because that just gets in the way of a dehumanizing narrative.

It's a piece of crap, and a seriously irresponsible and unethical one at that. And none of the awful things her son did excuse what she did.
posted by mobunited at 3:23 AM on March 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


I remember on a TLC show about genetic disorders they had an immobile boy who was being given stunting drugs like testosterone blockers so he would be easy to carry around in the future. I thought it was pretty questionable ethically, but I can see the applications here.
posted by melissam at 4:44 AM on March 28, 2009


How often to you hear "Beware," heading of a sentence like that?

How often have you dealt with autistic children?
posted by shii at 5:01 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


this level of violence and criminal activity is not even remotely the norm for individuals on the spectrum, especially not in cases of high functioning autism

This isn't my experience at all, although I agree people with HFA are less likely to be violent (although not always - my HFA brother-in-law was sectioned for two years after repeatedly strangling his mother, resulting in her hospitalisation three times). I've worked in the field for 15 years, and staff are trained in programs such as Professional Assault Response Training (click on "What Does PART™ Teach?") to minimise the need for restraint of violent service users, and in more progressive services programs such as Positive Behaviour Support are used to minimise challenging behaviour. I've personally been punched, spat on, kicked, had my hair pulled out of my scalp, my specs broken, been thrown against a wall and strangled with a seatbelt, and mildly sexually assaulted in a variety of interesting ways. I worked in the challenging behaviour team of a large NGO service provider and of the 2200 service users, 312 were known to us, most with a combination of challenging behaviours of which around 85% were assaultive. Very recently I've attended as the on call duty manager while a staff team were chased around the yard, punched and kicked by a 24 stone autistic man who took enough ketamine to knock out three horses to come down. This was an extreme situation, but violence is an everyday occurrence in many disability services.

Assaultive younger people with autism now usually have dual diagnoses, often with Oppositional Defiance Disorder. The use of Risperidone and the associated weight gain and attendant physical side-effects is a quite common factor, and of course the pain and frsutration exacerbates the challenging behaviour, as mobunited also notes above. I've seen the best results with the holistic positive programs such as PBS, but they are long-term and often require fundamental shifts in thinking and approach, which can be especially difficult for older parents and staff.

Thanks for the article - while on one level I agree that it is somewhat exploitative and most certainly embellished, it's always interesting to see this issue from different perspectives. Here in the UK Andrew would have a large care package (though not necessarily an entirely effective one) and most likely would have been admitted to hospital without delay (though the treatment he'd receive would not necessarily be the most appropriate).
posted by goo at 6:17 AM on March 28, 2009 [9 favorites]


>>She already admits to spicing up the truth in her book about him<<

Her book is a novel.
posted by macadamiaranch at 6:40 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


It is staggering to me that people suggest that the solution to amazingly complex psychiatric problems is more sports or getting laid. Or that the problem is clueless/unmotivated/irresponsible mothers.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:05 AM on March 28, 2009 [9 favorites]


Thanks for the article - while on one level I agree that it is somewhat exploitative and most certainly embellished, it's always interesting to see this issue from different perspectives.

Goo,
The article IS titled "The Monster inside my son" - which, in this case at least, I imagine was used with the author's agreement. So I think the writer is explicitly acknowledging her lay perspective as a parent. It's not intended as a clinical summary!

When you refer to embellishment, do you mean your professional experience makes you suspect James Frey-type nonsense?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:30 AM on March 28, 2009


Her descriptions of him as a monster and of his monstrous acts are the perfectly normal reaction of a person witnessing unprovoked, inhuman behavior from someone she had grown to regard as completely harmless and almost totally cured. Who wouldn't react with horror, denial, and despair? She isn't dehumanizing him, she was witnessing him dehumanizing himself.

The language he uses to describe his state and the language she uses to retell it might sound hyperbolic to your ears, but in intense moments people use very surprising words to articulate their feelings. I'm sure an everyday person's love poems would seem hackneyed too, but it doesn't mean that they aren't real, or that the feelings behind them aren't valid.

mobunited, I can understand the gut reaction you had to this story, it sort of lines up with the author's reaction to reading other parents' experience with autism. But that pretty much ensures that few other people in this thread are going to see where you're coming from. I, for one, feel like we didn't even read the same article.
posted by hermitosis at 7:44 AM on March 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


It is staggering to me that people suggest that the solution to amazingly complex psychiatric problems is more sports or getting laid. Or that the problem is clueless/unmotivated/irresponsible mothers.

Yeah, you'd think that this had been posted in AskMe.
posted by hermitosis at 7:45 AM on March 28, 2009


It is staggering to me that people suggest that the solution to amazingly complex psychiatric problems is more sports or getting laid. Or that the problem is clueless/unmotivated/irresponsible mothers.

I don't think anybody's actually saying that (although the folks you're referring to aren't necessarily articulating themselves perfectly). Exercise (and appropriate sex-ed) aren't being presented as cure-alls, but rather as mitigate-alls. As for the irresponsible mother bit: seems to me (though perhaps I've missed something) that the people criticizing Bauer are doing so in the context of her being the author of this article, not in the context of her mothering capability.
posted by Commander Rachek at 8:02 AM on March 28, 2009


The article is well written in that it succeeds in it's attempts to garner sympathy for the writer and her plight, as well as tell her story. What strikes me immediately, is that the article although ostensibly about the son, is in fact all about the writer (as many of the quotations above show). While this is an interesting perspective, it is also indicative of a self-centred personality which may help us understand something about how David has developed.
Ann Bauer does not seem display much understanding about autism, which is shocking coming from a person who is writing a novel centred on her experiences with her autistic son.

I don't knock people for feeling sympathy with Ann Bauer, but in my case any sympathy I might feel is tempered by the suspicion that my emotions are being toyed with in order that her book sales increase. Maybe she will use all the proceeds to help her son, one can only hope! I would also add that money doesn't buy everything and that in this case I don't think a lack of cash has been responsible for David's behaviour, there may be something else he is missing out on.
posted by asok at 8:40 AM on March 28, 2009


"A mother with an autistic child? HA! What's her angle?"
posted by boo_radley at 9:27 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Stories about grief are by necessity self-centered. And looking at her askance for "profiting" from the situation is ridiculous. She's a writer, writers interact with their world through writing, and even pretty successful ones barely make a living at it.
posted by hermitosis at 9:37 AM on March 28, 2009


I didn't find this exploitative. I think the kernel of motivation here is when she speaks about searching online for links between violence and adult autism and finding so little information:

... There were roughly a dozen recent articles about heinous acts committed by people with autism and Asperger's syndrome, but each was followed by editorials and letters written by autism advocates vigorously denying a link. There were a few studies from the '80s and '90s, but the results -- when they showed a higher rate of violent crime among people with autism -- appeared to have been quieted or dismissed.

On the other hand there were, literally, thousands of heartwarming stories about autism. A couple of the most widely read were written by me. For years I had been telling my son's story, insisting that autism is beautiful, mysterious, perhaps even evolutionarily necessary. Denying that it can also be a wild, ravaging madness, a disease of the mind and soul. It was my trademark as an essayist, but also my profound belief.


I imagine she feels responsible for helping to perpetuate the happy-shiny gloss at the expense of serious questions about possible aspects of the disease that no parent wants to contemplate. I imagine she feels she let down people like Trudy Steuernagel, and ultimately herself and her own son, by fighting so strongly against stigma that perhaps actual research has been stymied. If all families of children with autism fiercely deny that there could ever be any relationship with violent behavior, who is going to study that?

Who knows what is at work here? Allergies, reactions to other environmental factors, drug combinations, a different sort of PTSD, the possible testosterone link, maybe exacerbated by something else... it could be anything, but if it is not Okay to even admit that such a condition might exist, what hope is there that a connection will be discovered? I have the feeling that this is the situation she is now trying to combat with her story. And if she wants anyone to read, she has to write like a writer. I wish her and her family well.
posted by taz at 10:31 AM on March 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


loquacious, wasn't there a controversial case recently where the parents had their child sterilized because he was retarded/ autistic? I recall they specifically stated that they wanted to prevent puberty and all the changes that would bring.

It was a she. And she wasn't autistic, nor was she known to be violent. Her sterilization was for other reasons.

On another note, I find it interesting that so little attention has been paid in this discussion to the "borderline diabetic" part of Andrew Bauer's diagnosis. I'm not in any way trying to vilify those with diabetes, but I would like to point out that behavioral changes known to sometimes accompany both low and high blood sugar spikes include short-temperedness, irrational behavior, and even violence. Some EMTs make it a point to include that in their training guidelines. Those symptoms all accompanied the onset of my father's diabetes.
posted by limeonaire at 10:52 AM on March 28, 2009


Very interesting point, limeonaire.
posted by taz at 10:58 AM on March 28, 2009


Commander Rachek: To my eyes, this largely serves to highlight how deplorable mental health care is in this country. Why was there no place for this guy to go?

This is a really, really complicated can of worms. In a case like this, it sounds like the only place that may be able to effectively treat (or really even house) this guy is a secure psychiatric facility where he can be kept away from other inmates he might harm. There aren't many places like that anymore; the number of beds in psychiatric hospitals has dropped from 339 per 100,000 people to 21 per 100,000 people since the 1950s--a drop of about 95%. Nowadays, when people with severe mental illness are hospitalized, it tends to be short stays in a general hospital, for observation and stabilization, and it's unclear that something like that would be helpful for this author's son. There's a strong, strong bias in the system to try to treat every single person in the community no matter what, in the least restrictive setting possible (like halfway houses, which obviously presents a safety issue when someone is violent towards other residents). An important part of that movement has been to literally shut down psychiatric hospitals that could treat hard cases like this, because if those beds are available they will probably be filled, probably by people who could be treated in less-restrictive settings. (This is a well-known phenomenon for hospital beds that isn't limited to psych treatment; in fact, it goes by the catchy name "Roemer's law.") In 99 cases out of 100, not having anywhere like that to take a patient forces the system to find a less-restrictive setting to treat someone in, which is probably for the best. But for that last case, you end up with a person in the back of an ambulance, being driven in circles because there's nowhere to go.

The shift to shut down inpatient psych facilities and end the ability to hospitalize a mentally ill person permanently has by and large been an intentional one, one that many thoughtful people and mental health advocates have pushed for over decades. It is incredibly, incredibly hard to admit someone to a hospital against their will these days even for a short time, never mind as a permanent placement, even when their next of kin is begging for it--and that's intentional. If you spend some time looking through some of the most egregious abuses of the system in the 1940s and 1950s, where people who were not by our standards today mentally ill were permanently placed in those institutions largely on the words of their families (maybe because they were gay, or women who continually ran away from abusive husbands) , it becomes clearer why this is so. However, it does mean there's not a lot of places left for a violent mentally ill person who refuses to take medication, or more heartbreakingly doesn't respond to medication--some of the only places left that provide care in those situations are mental hospitals run by the criminal justice system for people not guilty by reason of mental defect or insanity. In a way, permanently placing someone dangerous into a mental hospital is not very different from incarcerating them, and that's why desperate families are told that there's nothing the state can do until their mentally-ill family member commits a crime. For better or worse, we don't lock up people who we are pretty sure is going to hurt someone until they actually harm someone, and the rules aren't different for the mentally ill.
posted by iminurmefi at 11:55 AM on March 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


limeonaire, I noted Audrey's case and its dissimilarity a bit after my initial comment. It's probably good to have another pointer to it just in case, especially since you link to a follow-up news story on the case.
posted by boo_radley at 1:22 PM on March 28, 2009


limeonaire, what the hell are you talking about re: diabetes and violence?

Your first link talks about "rebellious or cantankerous" behavior, not throwing mom across the and breaking her ribs.

The second link says "For example, a person with diabetes may develop low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) if they miss a meal and become aggressive as a result." Does 'become aggressive' mean a diabetic will simply enter a room, fix their eyes upon their sibling and attack?

The third link just mentions diabetes only in the vaguest sense, grouping it with CVA, head trauma, psychiatric disorders, seizures" as a possible cause for violence.

I'm sorry to hear about your dad and hope he's doing better, but diabetes isn't violence spawning disease your comment makes it to be.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:17 PM on March 28, 2009


Who knows what is at work here? Allergies, reactions to other environmental factors, drug combinations, a different sort of PTSD, the possible testosterone link, maybe exacerbated by something else...

Skunk!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:35 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


boo_radley: Oops, missed that. Sorry!

Brandon Blatcher: I'm not saying diabetes is always or even often a "violence spawning disease," or that it's likely the major cause of Andrew's extremely violent behavior. I'm simply saying it's rather interesting that no one seems to have focused in on that as a possible contributing factor to this situation. Mood swings of any sort are a big problem for Andrew, because he doesn't know how to deal with them—so I'd think anything that causes them, including his erratic eating behavior, would be worth taking a second look at.
posted by limeonaire at 5:49 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


wow... I haven't been reading much of MeFi in the past couple years and brought this article here because I know mental health is always of interest on the Blue. But what happened? I always saw MeFi as the calm oasis of sanity on the webs... snakepit indeed!
posted by cgs at 7:03 PM on March 29, 2009


Jesus Christ, everyone calm the fuck down. Looks like a room of people all but yelling at one another, but no-one's necessarily wrong; it's just everyone's misunderstanding each other.

Take a second, catch your breath, regroup, and stop being so sensitive about what one person on the internet said to you. Ten-to-one, each of these opinions has something valid to contribute, but many were just worded poorly. Don't take instant offense. Rise above.
posted by grubi at 7:46 AM on March 30, 2009


What I found most interesting on a purely intellectual level--because my first reaction was a purely emotional, "Oh, that's horrible!"--was the vast difference between the two posts, the one linked here in the FPP and her earlier one that seemed more hopeful.

In both, the author's search to find some root cause (perfectly understandable, I think) for her son's radical change in behavior is pivotal. First, she is sure it is the drugs; now, she feels that all autistic kids could become like this and it's just a matter of time.

Clearly, both of her responses are knee-jerk reactions (again understandable).

In the first case, they were so disturbed by their son's behavior that they took him off of the second medication after only two weeks, which (in my limited knowledge) is a really short time to try anti-depressants or mood-altering drugs or the like. I doubt that the second drug was really the problem (and she seems to think so now, too), but clearly she was like a drowning woman reaching for a life preserver.

So now, she feels it must be the fate of every autistic kid to turn violent eventually, simply because the drugs which didn't work, and the doctors can't find any secondary mental illness (which blows my mind, given the behavior of her son, which just screams there must be something going else going on).

Between those two posts, she's gone from an anti-drug crusader to a woman without hope. Her comments about her son--hulking, werewolf, all of that--come from that place. I think they're understandable, as well, when taken in that light. After all, her oldest son is a big guy, too, and she doesn't describe him in the same way because his behavior doesn't warrant it.

The "beware"--yes, it sounds hokey, and I questioned it, too, but autistic kids can often use pedantic language, so it's not that far-fetched.

The part that got to me the most was that in both stories, the son eloquently expressed his need to be released--first, by suggesting to his Mom that they just sneak out, and then by saying, flatly, "I don't like being caged."

So, here's a kid who clearly needs treatment in a secure setting due to his violent outburts, but one for whom that kind of treatment feels like torture, and so his violent outbursts become worse as a result.

It's a conundrum, and I feel for the family because I don't know how they can find a way out of this. Whatever we may say here to reassure ourselves that we would handle this situation better, there is not going to be any easy fix to this.
posted by misha at 11:41 AM on March 30, 2009


Whatever we may say here to reassure ourselves that we would handle this situation better

I'm beginning to feel that a lot of the condemnation expressed in this thread stems from the way this story violates the narrative convention that there be a hope, a happy ending, a resolution.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:30 PM on March 30, 2009


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