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We have all failed Sky
December 7, 2009 7:44 PM   Subscribe

"To Whom it May Concern: If this letter has been opened and is being read, it is because I have been seriously injured or killed by my son, Sky Walker." [...snip...] "I do not want him to be punished for actions for which he is not responsible."

Also, because this quoted part is important: "Doctors and teachers in Cleveland who deal with autism begin discussions of aggression with a caveat: Autism does not automatically lead to aggression. No one wants autistic people to suffer the sort of horror-movie stigma that has plagued the mentally ill for so long. But they do not deny the aggressive tendency exists."

There are some great links to information in the article and in the comments.
posted by FunkyHelix (88 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Damn that is heartbreaking to read.
posted by aerotive at 7:48 PM on December 7, 2009


Yes. I read it this morning and it's stuck with me all day.
posted by FunkyHelix at 7:54 PM on December 7, 2009


Thank heaven for that sheriff's humanity. That wouldn't happen everywhere.
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:06 PM on December 7, 2009 [18 favorites]


When I first saw this post, I thought it was a joke fictional letter written by Darth Vader.

Sad that it turned out to be real, and such a tragedy.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:15 PM on December 7, 2009 [34 favorites]


Truly heartbreaking.

Trudy sounds like an incredibly stoic woman who imprisoned herself with her son, without complaint, because she could not bear to give him up to a system that did not understand him as she did. And yet she blames herself for not being enough for him, even though in the end she was the one who suffered for it.

I found it especially tragic that the kind of help he needed--a residential facility with lockdown capability, which is where he is now--might have been more readily available to her if only she had been willing to share how aggressive her son had become.

Or at least that is what the individuals interviewed say now.

Of course, it is much easier to say after the fact, "Had she said he was dangerous, we would have found a way..."
posted by misha at 8:22 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hiding the violence that Sky was inflicting upon her, though well-intentioned, was ultimately far worse for him than if she'd allowed intervention.

Instead of Sky being in a facility and able to receive visits from his mother, she chose to take the risk that was ultimately actualized: Sky is in a facility anyway, but will never see her again.
posted by chimaera at 8:25 PM on December 7, 2009 [15 favorites]


There are no words.
posted by chinston at 8:35 PM on December 7, 2009


Utterly heartbreaking.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:45 PM on December 7, 2009


If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:48 PM on December 7, 2009 [53 favorites]


The Gravestone at the end brought a tear to my eye.
posted by highgene at 8:55 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


.
posted by 8-bit floozy at 8:57 PM on December 7, 2009


You ever do that thing where you pinch the area between your thumb and your index finger so you have physical pain that distracts you from the emotional reaction that you just can't handle having at that moment? Just did that so I could finish reading that article. Thanks for posting it.

There are plenty of things my logical part of me can say about that whole situation and how I imagine it might have ended better, but posting coulda, shoulda, woulda is a whole lot of Internet nothing now, so not going to happen. Except...damn.

.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:58 PM on December 7, 2009


Stories of how far parental love will go in the face of what seems impossible to me never fail to bring break my heart a little. Thanks for posting this.
posted by holycola at 9:22 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


That story is so completely awful that I don't even know what to say about it.
posted by empath at 9:26 PM on December 7, 2009



My son has autism. Today he had a bad day at school and was violent to the staff there. I cried so much when I read this. I know each child is unique, but I completely understand what she did. I think often about what will happen to my son when he is older. He's only 6 now but I think often about his future. And I can't imagine sending him somewhere else either.

Thanks for sharing this, event though it was very tough to read. I am hopeful but afraid of the teenager years for my son.
posted by dealing away at 9:28 PM on December 7, 2009 [23 favorites]


.
posted by twirlypen at 9:29 PM on December 7, 2009


What a thoughtful article and heartbreaking story. When I see stories like this, it's so hard not to imagine me some at some distant time in the future as having kids and dealing with the same issues. It's also hard to imagine not dealing with it the same way. Trudy Steuernagel seems to have been the personification of motherly love and it's so completely heart-wrenching to hear about all of the hardship she and her son had to go through.

All that there is left to say is "if only".
posted by battlebison at 9:29 PM on December 7, 2009


I spent two entire summers working with the developmentally-disabled population, which included some severe autistics. The work was so unbelievably hard that I almost quit, on several occasions. Until you've been there, caring for this population, you really just can't understand that amount of stress that the caregivers are dealing with. We had week-long sessions that were called "Respites"--and they were exactly that--a respite for the caregivers, the exhausted mothers and fathers of these autistics. That's why I didn't quit--to be able to give a respite to these caregivers is an incredible thing.

I leaned more about myself in those two summers than from any other job I've ever held. I learned precisely...exactly...how much stress I can take and where my breaking point is. I learned that people (myself included) behave very weirdly under stress. [Remarkably, just a few years afterwards, I saw first-hand what stress can do to people as I watched people around me in NYC cope with the events of 9/11/2001--but that's a different story...].

The rewards were as equally immense as the stress and the hardships. Some of my most vivid memories are of the people I cared for those two summers: Gregg, David, the Walker brothers, Frankie, sweet Michael, Henry, Beau...

That this mother, Trudy, was dealing with her son by herself (which is unfortunately all too common) is a travesty. Trudy clearly needed a respite from her son and, possibly, to have him placed in an appropriate facility where trained staff could take some of the burden.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 9:33 PM on December 7, 2009 [8 favorites]


I feel very uncomfortable with classifying this as "motherly/parental love gone wrong." As someone who's been there, it sounds more like codependency in an abusive relationship.
posted by autoclavicle at 9:56 PM on December 7, 2009 [11 favorites]


This is heartbreaking. From an editorial written by Ms. Steuernagel in 2007:

Neither Sky nor I will ever win the Nobel Peace Prize. Neither of us will write the great American novel. We will, however, make each other laugh. We'll challenge each other to be better people, to be a better mother and a better son. He is my dance partner and I his. Sometimes we step on each other's toes and sometimes we navigate with great grace. I've learned when to lead and when to follow. I know Sky will continue to leave a trail for me, a trail of sparkles.
posted by lalex at 9:58 PM on December 7, 2009


That this mother, Trudy, was dealing with her son by herself (which is unfortunately all too common) is a travesty. Trudy clearly needed a respite from her son and, possibly, to have him placed in an appropriate facility where trained staff could take some of the burden.

Without wishing to speak unduly ill of the dead, the overwhelming impression I took from the article is that any help on offer would have been unwelcome precisely because it would have involved at least some distance from her son.
posted by rodgerd at 10:12 PM on December 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Fuck, that 2007 editorial is so full of kindness and patience. This whole story is heartbreaking, but reading about her hope and knowing that a year later she was barricading herself in a closet makes it worse, if it can even be worse.

.
posted by bewilderbeast at 10:12 PM on December 7, 2009


.
posted by davejay at 10:21 PM on December 7, 2009




So those who know about autism make a well intentioned decision to downplay the possibility of violence in an effort to protect children with autism from stigma from those of us ignorant of the condition, and their decision is the very thing that harms those who need to know: those caregivers like Trudy S. who find themselves without the information and support they need to accurately assess their situation and care for themselves and their children with autism?

Man, it just shouldn't be that way. That just breaks my heart.
posted by anitanita at 10:23 PM on December 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


Not many things on metafilter make me cry, but this one did.


.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 10:29 PM on December 7, 2009


Mothers and children can sometimes be incomprehensibly bad for each other to the point of mutual self-destruction, in this case and some others. Oh life, why?!
posted by fuq at 10:40 PM on December 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


Tears here, too.

From the comments:
...missing from the account was the incredible struggles Trudy faced in getting health care coverage for Sky's treatment. The university refused (and continues to refuse) to cover behavioral treatment's for autism as part of its health care coverage. In addition, because Sky was diagnosed as autistic other health problems (unrelated to his autism) were routinely denied. And Trudy spend hundreds of hours fighting with insurance companies and the university just to get the coverage she and Sky were entitled to under their insurance policy. Nothing can make up for the tragedy Trudy and Sky suffered. However, the university and the state could move in positive direction by covering autism. It's outrageous that a woman who had to deal with all the challenges associated with caring for son with autism also had to deal with the nightmare of navigating the obstacles put up by the university and private insurance providers.
posted by taz at 10:40 PM on December 7, 2009 [19 favorites]


autoclavicle, I don't know anything about 'codependency in an abusive relationship' but that doesn't ring true to me. If you are in an abusive relationship, you can at least try to use rational arguments with the other person at some point. In these situations, I can argue rationally with my 2 year daughter about her 'bad' behaviors, but I cannot do so with my 6 year old son with autism.

Maybe it's the everlasting hope of a parent that someday the 'light' will come on inside their child and that autism will no longer be the defining feature of their precious child. I think it's that hope that caused her to stay till the very end and I hope to do likewise, whatever end that may be.
posted by dealing away at 10:49 PM on December 7, 2009


Jesus Christ. What a horrible end for two blameless people cursed by disease.

.
posted by benzenedream at 11:12 PM on December 7, 2009


My nieces and nephew are grown now, and all three living essentially in different houses. My parents raised them, though, and them being together was often hell. They have committed various forms of violence on each other, not with the intent of causing permanent harm, but simply through lack of self-control. (There was, unfortunately, one instance of permanent harm.) Just tonight we were discussing how to fix the solid 19th century wood door to the bedroom that was kicked off its hinges by my niece several years ago. There were also some close calls between them and us. It got a little better after the one niece spent time in a locked facility as well as an overnight in juvenile detention. It didn't get safe for everyone until they got old enough to choose different households and living arrangements.

In retrospect, much of what we went through was similar to what abused spouses go through. You know something needs to be done to stop the violence, but you're unwilling to take the therapeutic steps necessary.
posted by dhartung at 11:18 PM on December 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thank you for sharing this.
posted by maxwelton at 11:41 PM on December 7, 2009


This is my second-to-ultimate nightmare, right after this.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:52 PM on December 7, 2009


I don't see how anybody failed Sky except her, by not having him committed, plus presumably an insurance company.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:14 AM on December 8, 2009


So *very* sad. My heart goes out to anyone is such a situation...

.
posted by Jade Dragon at 12:41 AM on December 8, 2009


God, what an awful situation. I just have no way to even process how just... fuck. Not much gets to me like this, but it just makes me feel helpless, with all the shit in the world, and it just keeps piling up, y'know? Where is the good in any of this?
posted by Ghidorah at 1:47 AM on December 8, 2009


I once visited a facility in England which was the end of the line for 'challenging' kids like this. It was an extraordinary place and the kids were at once charming and terrifying. One had slit the soles of his parents' feet with a razor blade while they slept. (On another occasion he put his own feces in their mouths while they were snoring). There were teeth marks on some of the door jambs which was another kids' way of resisting being moved. Another kids, the oldest and strongest, could only be taken for a walk outside the facility (eg to the supermarket) if he wore a special harness with six ropes attached to it which six staff would hold.

The issue the staff had to deal with at the time (and the reason they let me, a TV producer, in) was that under the Children Act, they were legally not allowed to lock the doors. But there was no way of operating the place without locked doors. So they were breaking the law every day.
posted by unSane at 5:00 AM on December 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


The university refused (and continues to refuse) to cover behavioral treatment's for autism as part of its health care coverage.

While this story is sad, the insurance comment is fucking criminal. Seriously, people at both the administration for the university and at their health care provider of choice should face charges for this - manslaughter at a minimum. They're the ones who murdered Trudy.

America's health care system is killing its own people in a manner most dismally ironic and maddening.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:03 AM on December 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


I don't see how anybody failed Sky except her, by not having him committed,

You missed the point. There aren't facilities for people like Sky! It's not like having a bad dog that you take to the pound, jeffburdges.

Trudy didn't wake up one day to a six-foot-tall toddler on acid (that's the term I used to describe my autistic teen.) This is someone who was your baby, someone you snuggled into his jammies, read stories to, smelled his freshly washed hair as his head rested on your chest. Slowly, things started going wrong and the world spun out of control. But no magic fairy walked in with a solution when things didn't turn out the way you'd planned.

RIP, Trudy. There but for the grace of god go I.
posted by tizzie at 6:04 AM on December 8, 2009 [16 favorites]


[A few comments removed. I can't imagine in any way in which that conversation goes well, but this seems like an exceptionally bad context to even go there.]
posted by cortex at 6:33 AM on December 8, 2009


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posted by zizzle at 6:38 AM on December 8, 2009


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posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:42 AM on December 8, 2009


Wow.

Truly an edge-case and a challenge to our hubris that we have a "civilized" society. We in the west do have the resources to provide support and care even for these difficult cases, but it sometimes seems that we have been successfully inoculated against accepting collective or community responsibility to share these burdens.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:59 AM on December 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


dealing away: I know where you're coming from. My son is also 6 and on the spectrum. One of the moms in our parent support group with a 16 year old just found out there's an 11 year waiting list for an autistic adult group home in NJ. She's 58. It's just heartbreaking.

If you ever need someone to just vent to, feel free to mefi-mail me.
posted by FunkyHelix at 7:03 AM on December 8, 2009


Thankfully, my autistic brother never had the eye-hand coordination to hurt himself or anybody else. Add myself to the list of "There but for the grace of God..."

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posted by jonp72 at 7:22 AM on December 8, 2009


I don't see how anybody failed Sky except her, by not having him committed, plus presumably an insurance company.

We like to pretend, in these situations, that we are all raised in a vacuum, and make our decisions based on rational lists of pros and cons, and therefore must be solely responsible for the outcomes.

It's not true, and it's never been true. Trudy did not grow up in a vacuum, and she did not raise Sky in a vacuum. I can only speculate based on my own experiences, but (1) we as a society place no value on the lives of people we see as unproductive. We allocate inadequate resources for their care. (2) We expect mothers to sacrifice everything for their families. As a converse, we raise women to believe that they are a failure if they can't do it all by themselves.

Trudy dealt with it by complying with Sky's elaborate system of rituals, which ruled their days from the time she woke up until Sky went to bed... Molly Merriman, a KSU faculty member, tried to convince Trudy she was living with domestic violence, one of Merriman's academic interests. But Trudy still believed Sky would change.

This is exactly the heart of the problem. It was domestic violence.
posted by muddgirl at 7:41 AM on December 8, 2009 [12 favorites]


I wish this caring parent could have gotten effective help for herself and her son, rather than pursuing the course that led to this tragic outcome. When a parent feels like his or her only option is to let their child abuse and kill them, something has gone terribly wrong with the system.

Not just the insurance system, but the whole system of society.

So sad.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:47 AM on December 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


Still trying to steel myself to continue reading this article. I think of how angry and frustrated I sometimes get at my normal 4- and 2-year-old boys and the never-ending patience Trudy had for her own son.

I can't imagine the daily heartbreak.
posted by bpm140 at 7:50 AM on December 8, 2009


"I. Don't. Have. Words."

Yes, truly heartbreaking. I'm not sure I even should have read the story. My own heart goes out to all of those struggling with autism, including some good friends.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:31 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


i'm pretty sure i won't be able to sleep tonight. maybe not tomorrow night, either.

it's my very humble opinion that THIS is where universal health care needs to start, and the sooner the better. mental health care has historically been considered a 'private' issue for family members to address. if that fails, it's off to a warehouse institution--either a mental hospital or prison--for the afflicted party. i suspect, also, that too often a medical hospital or a morgue are the destination points for those who deal with people with mental illness.

it's a touching & terrifying article. thanks for posting this.
posted by msconduct at 8:39 AM on December 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not many things on metafilter make me cry, but this one did.

This
posted by dmt at 9:57 AM on December 8, 2009


I woke up to good news about autism treatment on the radio. It's only one study, and it's far from ideal, but it's hope. This thread looked like it needed some hope.
posted by Richard Daly at 10:07 AM on December 8, 2009


You missed the point. There aren't facilities for people like Sky! It's not like having a bad dog that you take to the pound, jeffburdges.

I think the article said the boy's father found a placement for him -- presumably because the boy had attacked him violently, and so he could use the magic words, "danger to others" -- but the mother took him out.

To me, permitting him to beat her regularly was as bad for him as it was for her -- each beating has to have been another step on the road away from his own humanity. It can't have failed to have scarred him, the experience and memory of these episodes.
posted by palliser at 10:42 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think it's that hope that caused her to stay till the very end and I hope to do likewise, whatever end that may be.

This attitude seems inconsistent with the responsibility to care for and protect your other child.
posted by palliser at 10:43 AM on December 8, 2009


My good friend has worked at a therapeutic day school in the Chicago area for two years. He's worked with children of all sorts. Some of the kids there simply have behavioral problems, some are unendingly violent (he's received two concussions and been hospitalized multiple times because of work). The student he worked with as a "one-on-one" was similar to Sky, though not quite as severe. He was violent, a non-verbal autistic, MR, ADHD and weighed about 290 pounds. That child is in a residential facility now. My friend worked there occasionally as well, he would only describe that place as "bad".

When he first started working there he was really dedicated to helping these children but the job has driven him over the edge. The non-stop violence, and failure of our system to provide adequate care has jaded him. Now my friend is leaving his job at this school, taking a 5 dollar an hour pay cut and taking a new job, one that is far less demanding - both mentally and physically.

After awhile my friend, and I - being peripherally involved with all him and their staff and students must endure - have come to a point where we now question the value of the care the school provides. Because the school he worked at provided care for not only autistic students what ended up happening is that the limited resources the school had were often sunk into care for the worst students - and in that I mean those most likely to end up in residential for the better part of their lives, of course this left those who may actually lead productive lives with too few resources for care as well.

muddgirl touched on it above, we aws society don't value the "unproductive". I feel this is a by-product of unfettered capitalism, you may feel differently. All around its a giant clusterfuck. Humanity seems to be lacking in America, this is an infinitely story that I suspect is, in many ways, repeated again and again and again.

Fuck all.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:51 AM on December 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Phew. Heartbreaking.
.
posted by ericb at 10:51 AM on December 8, 2009


*infinitely sad story. and many missing words. sorry, this issue is one that is close to me, and it's hard to think after reading that.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:56 AM on December 8, 2009


I think the article said the boy's father found a placement for him -- presumably because the boy had attacked him violently, and so he could use the magic words, "danger to others" -- but the mother took him out.

The article also said that the mother had worked at residential placement facilities in the past, and was well aware of the danger of abuse to the patients in such facilities. Without other information, we don't know whether the mother's decision to remove the son from that particular placement was rash or sound.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:12 AM on December 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's very hard to let your child go live in a facility away from you when they're autistic because most of them are perfect victims. They don't always understand what is being done to them and most cannot communicate the wrong afterward.

I will relate a personal story to try and explain. My son was 4 at the time and he is PDD NOS which is on the spectrum but mildly so. He has a profound speech development delay.

My son was in his room playing with his Leapfrog computer pad while I made dinner and my husband was sorting clothes in our room. There was a crash and my son began crying. We rushed into his room and his keyboard was on the floor while he screamed. We picked it up. It worked. We inspected it for damage, it was fine. We looked around the room for something that set him off and found nothing. We tried asking him, but he did not have the words to explain why he was upset. After we set the keyboard back on his table, our son calmed and turned back to his table.

That's when we saw the blood dripping down the back of his head onto his back. Had he not turned around, we would have left the room not knowing he had a head injury. To this day, we are still unable to explain what he did to get it and he is still unable to tell us.

This mother had worked at a residential placement facility and knew of the abuse some went through. Knowing these kids/adults have the potential to be abused and knowing her son (far more autistic than mine) is a perfect victim, of course she would choose to keep him with her until she felt she couldn't.

A parent will protect their child no matter what. How many stories do we see of parents taking in their addict children over and over? Defending their kids on trial for all sorts of things, when the kid is obviously guilty? Stalking people on MySpace who had the nerve to gossip about their kid? Killing or maiming those that abuse their children? Driving their kids to school every day, despite the school being a block away? A parent's love is boundless, strong, and scary.

Trudy loved her son. She just wanted to keep him safe and happy. It's what we all want for our children.
posted by FunkyHelix at 11:35 AM on December 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


The point I wanted to make, though, is that while we tend to recognize the brutalizing power of being abused, there may be equal horror, especially for a child (functionally speaking), in being an abuser. Think of how the police found him -- curled up in his safe room, saying he'd hurt his mommy. And he did that regularly.

That's not keeping him "safe and happy," whatever she wanted to avoid in a residential facility.*

*Important to add, too, that she worked in a residential facility in the 60s, and while things aren't perfect now, there has been a huge change in treatment for the mentally ill. The 70s were really a meaningful turning-point for this area of social justice.
posted by palliser at 12:09 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


After awhile my friend, and I ... have come to a point where we now question the value of the care the school provides. Because the school he worked at provided care for not only autistic students what ended up happening is that the limited resources the school had were often sunk into care for the worst students - and in that I mean those most likely to end up in residential for the better part of their lives, of course this left those who may actually lead productive lives with too few resources for care as well.

This.
I used to work in a program within a program that was for kids that were diagnosed as "SED/DD" (severely emotionally disturbed/ developmentally disabled). Most of these kids had the simply had the rotten luck of being born with some degree of either/and/or autism & mental retardation, as well as being born to shitty, abusive parents. Many of the kids, however, were born to perfectly normal, well-meaning parents who simply were unable to continue caring for their children at home due to violent outbursts. Oftentimes, the best we could do was to simply separate the kids who were having a violent outburst in a padded room what we called "time out room". Sure, staff and kids were protected from assault, but the other kids were still traumatized by the screaming, pounding and verbal threats. On really bad days, this could trigger a chain reaction, which meant that the majority of staff were focused on containing a couple or assaultive kids while one or two had to somehow calm, feed, clothed, educate and provide care for the other 9 or 10 kids. It is incredibly had not to feel like you are neglecting the well being of the majority trying to contain the very volatile, disturbed ones. I only lasted 8 months. I don't know how this woman Trudy did it for so long.
posted by echolalia67 at 12:13 PM on December 8, 2009


I have a teenage brother with autism. I have watched my mother's mental state deteriorate over the years because she feels so isolated. She's stopped asking for help, and I skipped several sections of this article because it was hitting too close to home.

It's an incredibly sad situation and one that I feel horrible not being a better sister and daughter for. I've known since his diagnosis when I was around 9 years old that I would never have the strength emotionally or financially to protect him. Day after day, I'll never feel a more selfish asshole.

It's a guilt-ridden whirlpool that's torn our family apart. He is the sweetest boy in the world and doesn't deserve not to have all of us around him, but the lack of resources in our area has driven literally everyone in our family (immediate and otherwise) away from each other because of my mother's state. Anyone that does try to help her she pushes away out of insecurity and embarrassment.

There is not a day that goes by where I don't fear that something happens to her, what that might be, and what that means for my sister and I, and most importantly our brother.

My thoughts and best wishes with everyone who knows someone on the spectrum -- these are amazing people and they deserve so much more.

.
posted by june made him a gemini at 12:50 PM on December 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


June made him a gemini, FunkyHelix, dealing away, and others in this thread are very eloquently testifying to the hope and despair wrapped up in Trudy's decision to stay with Sky. I wrote about this for Salon almost a decade ago - sorry for the self-link.

As a parent or a sibling of a child with severe autism, or severe cerebral palsy, or any number of overwhelming disabilities, it's hard to look at the future and say "Here's when I'm not going to be able to do this any more." Your heart can't bear to think that. Maybe something will happen. Maybe they'll get better. Maybe you'll find the medication or the school or the respite program that will make it work. Maybe Trudy died of hope.

Or, you try to give up, and there's no answer. There's no one to help. You don't qualify for help, or you can't wait through the waiting list. Maybe Trudy died of despair.

With the realities of the budgets - federal, state, local - and the realities of families now, the need to work outside the home in order to have health care and money to live on - there will be more stories like Trudy and Sky's ahead. I hope someone gets inspired to change that.
posted by tizzie at 1:21 PM on December 8, 2009 [10 favorites]


I've been following this story since I first read about it. The sad thing is, not much reform has actually occurred because of this exposure. You'd hope that some action would have been taken on the government's part. But, there has been little-to-no adjustments in funds or group homes.
posted by Olive Oil at 1:34 PM on December 8, 2009


It's so easy to say, I would have found a place for Sky, she should have gotten help, etc.

Trudy was not a young woman. Her husband left the situation and put together a new family. She was left alone with Sky and her job, probably the only outlet for her sanity, which nonetheless did not offer her the insurance coverage and benefits her son desperately needed. She kept the severity of her son's condition secret, perhaps to protect him, perhaps out of shame, perhaps simply because she felt so helpless that she didn't think it would do any good to share ayway. Her own co-workers were shocked when she reported hiding in a closet (what she would call a "safe room") from her own son.

Living with that kind of stress daily--I just don't see how any of us can come in and say definitively that we would have handled the situation better than she did. I know parents who, in the early days of infancy when their child is sleeping only a few hours at a stretch, stumble through like zombies, barely remembering what they did the day before. Trudy regularly went without sleep, totally devoted herself to her son's needs, and somehow just kept going--of course her judgment seems impaired to us!

Yes, we logical, educated Mefites understand the signs and symptoms and effects of abuse objectively, as we sit here right now, at our computers, completely unencumbered by the challenge of single parenthood which has evolved from a loving mother/son relationship to a horror show with a severely disturbed boy who outweighs you, cannot be reasoned with, cannot verbalize his own pain, lashes out with his fists and does not understand the consequences of his actions.

Most of the responses here show some sympathy for that situation, at least. For the rest--well, I hope your confident judgment about what she did wrong is never tested by having to face the same challenges Trudy did.
posted by misha at 2:05 PM on December 8, 2009 [8 favorites]


The unfortunate thing is that it seems like the problem is too big and hard for anyone to solve, even mobs and mobs of people. What do you do with a kid who's this big? Keep him chained and drugged all day, every day?

I have a friend with two autistic children, who works with autistic children on a daily basis, and who gets beat up to hell by her students (middle schoolers). She could very well end up like this woman someday, and hell, I don't know how anyone would stop that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:16 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


.
posted by Splunge at 3:57 PM on December 8, 2009


The unfortunate thing is that it seems like the problem is too big and hard for anyone to solve, even mobs and mobs of people. What do you do with a kid who's this big? Keep him chained and drugged all day, every day?

Are there drugs which would actually have worked in this situation? Would it have been an issue where the drug worked for awhile and then the next one, then the next, and so on would need to be tried?

Has there been research into what happens to autistics of this sort as they age?

[context: A friend of mine grew up with a brother who had Down syndrome and the entire family let forth a collective (if tragic) sigh of relief when the brother passed away (pneumonia) -- they were looking to the future with quite a lot of dread since the outlook for Downs is very poor: early onset of age related illnesses once made the average lifespan quite low, but now that those are treatable the issue -- and genuine, palpable fear for the family I knew -- is late 30s/early 40s mental degeneration and early onset Alzheimer’s disease, among other things, and the associated additional behavioral issues.]
posted by rr at 4:44 PM on December 8, 2009


Needs a heroine tag.

.
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 4:59 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are there drugs which would actually have worked in this situation?

There are, but sometimes the sedative type drugs have the ironic side effect of leading to aggressive outbursts. The person is so heavily medicated that they don't want to be active at all, and when you try to get them to do something - come out of their room, eat dinner, take a shower - they just want to be left alone, and they react aggressively.
posted by tizzie at 5:19 PM on December 8, 2009


Sky screamed, a high-pitched wail that sounded like keening grief.

"Hurt Momma," he said. "Sad."


That's where I had to stop reading. How awful.
posted by hanncoll at 6:02 PM on December 8, 2009


Wow, WOW, metafilter, WOW. George Bush does anything and you dissect it to the atoms. Ok. I'll just put it out there:

it's a heart wrenching story. And I'd put myself in the top X of people who know about life with an autistic child. But:

--but "Sky Walker?" Hello?

She had a kid with a student 9 years younger than her?

The first time she reveals the situation to anyone was-- in the student newspaper of the college at which she worked?

Spends months with the father-- no problems-- except when he has to go home?

She had serious reasons to believe she might be killed-- yet changed nothing about the situation?

No one feels any need to speculate further on these oddities, yet--

no problem assuming that the reason he killed her was that he was autistic? That makes all the sense in the world?
posted by TheLastPsychiatrist at 9:36 PM on December 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


At the end of a week at Disney World with his father in June 2008, the boy smashed mirrors and furniture and beat up his father. That was four weeks before the boy was to return to his home with his mother. So I'm not sure I understand what you mean about spending months with the father with no problems except when the boy has to go home. Maybe you can clarify?
posted by chinston at 10:46 PM on December 8, 2009


She had a kid with a student 9 years younger than her?
[...]
Spends months with the father-- no problems-- except when he has to go home?
[...]
No one feels any need to speculate further on these oddities, yet--

Are you unfamiliar with how sentences and paragraphs work in the English language or are you just too much of a coward to actually make the serious allegations that you seem to be creepily implying?


no problem assuming that the reason he killed her was that he was autistic? That makes all the sense in the world?


Yes, that does make sense actually. Neurotypical male teenagers are prone to extreme rage and are already much stronger than the majority of middle aged women, when you combine that with severely diminished mental function you create a very dangerous situation.
posted by atrazine at 12:32 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have never had to consider separating violence from malice. My gut reaction is anger at the boy - large and uncharitable anger, the kind you save up for Really Bad Guys. This story is like a Robert Bloch short story come to life, the childlike monster with uncontrollable violent impulses. The desperate supplication with offerings of junk food and television is like a sick homage to Jerome Bixby. I'm sure it's quite clear I don't know any autistic people or their caregivers. But right now I'm not seeing much difference between this story and the ones where you hear about a man being eaten by the pet tiger he raised from a cub.

I know there is a person in him, and he deserves compassion and isn't responsible. I know this intellectually. Presumably everyone else commenting is well-past my stage of blissful ignorance and outrage-indulgence. But damn this article makes me angry at this man-monster and others described like him, with the foot-cutting and the feces - how is that a spontaneous uncontrolled impulse? I do not understand this. And it is almost more infuriating because it feels like I am the only one who is angry at him.
posted by Lou Stuells at 2:05 AM on December 9, 2009


Lou, he's a toddler in a man's body. What's so hard to understand about that?
posted by hanncoll at 5:59 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


he's a toddler in a man's body.

Yes. And I can speak to aggression in toddlers: toddlers act out because they have no other way of communicating. Developmentally, they don't possess the general language ability beyond a few words and they also don't possess any way of regulating their emotions without outside input. Anyone who spends time with "the terrible twos" witnesses tantrums with absolutely no apparent cause because the toddler is totally unable to communicate what exactly is bothering him. It is not that the toddler won't pull it together and tell you "I don't like the texture of this blanket" but that he actually developmentally can't.

Now, put that into a 6' 200lb body and you've got a very destructive force. My little guy I nanny for has to have his routine and eats certain foods and watches Blues Clues at certain times and if that's disrupted, he has a really, really rough time. And he's totally developmentally normal. For an autistic individual who can't handle routine shift at all - chicken nuggets and TV aren't "optional," they're all that is making them feel safe in the world. It's like comfort food - you eat certain things when you're upset to make you feel better - only this man needed it every single day because he didn't possess the developmental coping skills to handle every day life.

I can't imagine how hard it must be to be autistic or to care for an autistic person, but they have all of the love and respect in the world from me.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:14 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is the added complication that empathy is harder to achieve, or at least achieve consistently. If a toddler manages to hurt someone, and that person cries out, the toddler will flinch, will feel for the person they hurt. My guess is that at certain levels of function, autistic people may not have even that developmental level of fellow-feeling.

And really, it's like adopting a pet tiger? I mean, you bring a child into your world imagining very reasonably that, like almost all children -- like almost all autistic children, too! -- the child will not grow up to treat you like a bag of hamburger. This was her baby.
posted by palliser at 6:50 AM on December 9, 2009


This is a sad story and shows a real need for actual support. I don't know anyone that has an autistic child but raising and dealing with the fits of rage must be really hard. No one should have to live in fear or write an open letter about their death. Again I don't know but there has to be a social service out there willing to help.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:31 AM on December 9, 2009


Again I don't know but there has to be a social service out there willing to help.

Waht would they do?
posted by rr at 8:54 AM on December 9, 2009


She had a kid with a student 9 years younger than her?

Actually, I did blink at that, and I did the calculations and realized she had her child at 42. If she were, say, 25 and he were only 16, I would have had a problem with that. But we are talking about a 42 yo woman and a 33 yo, presumably both adult enough to decide to have children together.
posted by misha at 9:29 AM on December 9, 2009


And a 'former' student.

He may have been in her class 10 years prior for all we know.
posted by empath at 10:04 AM on December 9, 2009


What do you do with a kid who's this big? Keep him chained and drugged all day, every day?

Perhaps there was a reason for all those "awful" institutions in the 1960s and before.
posted by Melismata at 12:28 PM on December 9, 2009


No, there's a desperate need for not-awful institutions where the staff is well trained and well paid, and the residents can have their needs met. Publicly funded, and well funded. It's part of the social contract - taking care of those who can't care for themselves - but it's not a priority. You know, like wars and prisons.
posted by tizzie at 12:55 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Agreed, tizzie, but there is still the problem of the erupting violence and how to deal with that. And though medications can help, we really just need to put more funding into research to figure out what really has caused this incredible spike in autism. We also need to deal with mental health issues a LOT better than we do now.
posted by misha at 2:13 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, WOW, metafilter, WOW. George Bush does anything and you dissect it to the atoms. Ok. I'll just put it out there:

it's a heart wrenching story. And I'd put myself in the top X of people who know about life with an autistic child. But:

--but "Sky Walker?" Hello?

She had a kid with a student 9 years younger than her?

The first time she reveals the situation to anyone was-- in the student newspaper of the college at which she worked?

Spends months with the father-- no problems-- except when he has to go home?

She had serious reasons to believe she might be killed-- yet changed nothing about the situation?

No one feels any need to speculate further on these oddities, yet--

no problem assuming that the reason he killed her was that he was autistic? That makes all the sense in the world?


What the fuck, homeslice. Seriously, what the fuck? People give their kids weird names all the time. Didn't Gwyneth Paltrow name her kid "Apple"? People also start relationships in inappropriate-ish ways. Those things have nothing to do with this tragedy.

Do you have an autistic child? Have you worked with autistic children? Because everyone else who has commented and shares one of those experiences seems to have no problem understanding what she was up against and no problem NOT second-guessing the judgment of someone they never met and whose struggles they were not close to. Did you read the piece Tizzie linked to, that she wrote, about her own experiences? Because that's what you're judging.

You seriously want to suggest that she herself was mentally ill, or some sort of pedophile or abuser? That's the road you want to go down? You have fun.

And P.S. I'm pretty sure George Bush hasn't done a fucking thing in a YEAR since that copter took off the White House lawn. Get hip.
posted by liketitanic at 6:52 PM on December 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Another tragedy - be sure to read the comments (note: none of them are mine.)
posted by tizzie at 5:40 AM on December 16, 2009


Ugh, what? I think Steuernagel would be horrified to have her story linked to that one. Keeping your child with you because you don't trust institutions is really, really far from murdering your child.
posted by palliser at 6:27 AM on December 16, 2009


Palliser, the desperation of the two parents is not that far apart.
posted by tizzie at 12:05 PM on December 16, 2009


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