In November of 1996, I was living in an institution in which a doctor explicitly told me that he wanted to kill the person I was and replace me with someone else, and that he was going to, psychologically, do exactly that to me. I was totally unaware of things like the Oklahoma City Bombings. I found out who Timothy McVeigh was by accident two years ago by finding a taped news broadcast among a pile of my parents’ videotapes I was sorting. I was very out of touch with what was going on in the outside world.
I did not know about Autism Network International, either, although it had been around for awhile by then, and put on its first conference right around the time a guy died in the facility I was in and the same doctor was telling me that his death didn’t matter. I, of course, didn’t hear about ANI until later. Dr. Brainwash wasn’t exactly going to be thrilled with the notion of autistic people being valuable as ourselves.
Another person I hadn’t heard of was Charles-Antoine Blais. Charles-Antoine Blais was a seven-year-old autistic boy in Canada. His mother took him into the bathroom, filled the tub, and then held Charles-Antoine’s head under until he drowned.
The St. John’s autism list had a long discussion about him, back then. A very long discussion. In which a woman was castigated for “forcing her opinion down people’s throats” for stating the opinion twice, in a thread with dozens of messages, that she sympathized with the autistic boy and not his mother. Some people even questioned whether she could really be the parent of an autistic child if she did not sympathize with a murderer. Some people accused her of having less empathy than an autistic person (which is supposedly, in myth, very little), and many people treated her like she was doing something awful.
This is what that mother, Tanya Stewart, said:
I want you to imagine this from the childs point of view for a moment. A scared little boy, being taken into the bathroom as mom fills the tub. Mom grabs him and forces his little head under the water. We are talking about an older child here, so he was able to put up a pretty good fight. I would say she had plenty of time to realize what she was doing and stop. How could she continue after seeing his terrified face and feeling him fight for his life?
I am really surprised at the number of you who choose to have compassion for her and not for the innocent child.
The discussion had all the elements that still happen today: Most people sympathizing with or in some way explaining or excusing the murderer. A small number of people openly opposing the murder. A slightly larger number of people practicing a feigned neutrality that ends up acting as if it sides with the majority.
But there was one quote that I wanted to repeat right now, by Mark Painter, further on in the thread:
For myself, I’d like to know what his name was. I’d like to know what he looked like. Was he echoalic? Did he imitate his mother’s every move at the dining room table? Did he flap his hands excitedly, run to the TV set, and giggle whenever they rolled the credits at the end of the program? Did he put all the other little boys in the neighborhood to shame when he climbed the jungle gym at the playground? Was he a ravenous devourer of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese? Did high-pitched sounds make him put his hands over his ears and cry? Did he own a pair of “Bert and Ernie” sneakers that he loved so much he took them to bed with him every night?
Alas, we will never know these things. Too many people think it’s more important to emphasize how miserable his mother was. OK, maybe she had it rough. But I don’t buy the argument that since she went further than any of us would, she must have had it worse than any of us. I’ll bet there are parents on this list who have been through far worse, and yet found it in their hearts to spare their child’s life.
“Don’t judge” is good spiritual advice. But the fact remains that this woman must now be judged under Canadian law. Those of you who are hoping she gets off easier than, say, Susan Smith (to use an example previously cited in this thread), are hoping, whether you realize this or not, that the law will formally recognize the proposition that the life of an autistic child is less valuable than the life of a nonautistic child. (A few of you have come perilously close to openly proclaiming this principle right here on this list.) This is not good for your own children. It is not even good for you.
This strongly resembles something I said in my memorial post to Katie McCarron:
I wonder if you would have liked any of the same things I’ve liked at different times in my life: Trees, books, marbles, blocks, staring sideways at the carpet, playing with my hair, running, stars, flat surfaces, taking walks, staring at everything upside-down, cats, rubbing fuzzy things on my face, getting pine nuts out of pine cones, picking blackberries, having mischievous but loving older brothers, light switches, sparkly sidewalks, rocks from the moon, typewriters, sliding tape measures, and prisms.
I thought, given that the newspapers were not reporting anything about who she was, that we would never know. Her grandfather, Mike McCarron, was strong enough to come forward in the midst of all this and stand up for her value, stand up for her being recognized as a person. That was something many of the people I knew in institutions did not have. That was something that Charles-Antoine Blais did not have. But Mike McCarron has told us more about Katie than I’d ever hoped to know:
I would like to say something about Katie. Some newspapers have reported that this was done to end Katie’s pain; let me assure you that “Katie was not in pain”. She was a beautiful, precious and happy little girl. Each day she was showered with love and returned that love with hugs, kisses and laughter. Katie loved music; she would fill in some of the words in children’s songs as my wife would sing along with the CD that would be playing, their own version of “karaoke” . She liked to dance, she loved to do the “hooky poky”. She loved being in among flowers and tall grass. She would say “I like grass”. She enjoyed the zoo and because of all of the drills and flashcards she could identify the animals. Which I thought was pretty amazing for such a young child. She was also the only little child in her non-autistic play group that could identify an octagon. My wife and son had a party for her the day they heard that from the teacher.
She enjoyed having her grandmother dress her in new little outfits and dresses, and I think this is important. We have four grand-daughters, my wife loves to buy them frilly little dresses. When my wife went into a store she would never ask for three normal dresses and one autistic dress. I think we need to be very sensitive to the special needs of these children but at the same time not be oblivious to the numerous typical traits that are also developing. Katie was first and foremost a little girl, she enjoyed people making a big fuss over how pretty she looked. My wife would take her to the beauty shop to have her hair trimmed. Katie enjoyed going to the mall and looking in all of the stores and windows. These are female things.
She went to special schools everyday, the staff at those schools cherished her. I can not say enough for the staff at Mariposa. They were so very much more than professional therapists, they adopted her and loved her deeply. Katie was so lucky to be with them everyday.
There is also another young lady in North Carolina who worked with Katie during non-school hours. The bond that she had with Katie was unbelievably deep. I am amazed that a single Mom working to raise a son by herself could find so much extra love. Maybe love is one of those special resources, the more you give the more is given back.
Katie loved the park, the swings, the slides and being outside. She played with her dolls and toys; she loved “teletubbies” and brought joy to all of those that had actual contact with her. Yes, she was autistic. Developmentally she was behind other children. But her small victories would create unbelievable joy for those who loved her. I can not describe the ecstasy of having her little arms around my neck or of watching her and my son roll around on the floor playing in shear happiness.
Each day I ask the Lord if I could take her place, and perhaps He could return Katie to the loving arms of my son and my wife. So far that prayer has not been granted. But in the meantime I can assure you that no one will describe her murder as “understandable” or devalue her in anyway without my personal challenge to them and the organizations they represent.
I put pictures of myself at Katie’s age in my memorial post, because there were no pictures of Katie out there, but now I have found out otherwise from Mike McCarron.
He has given people permission to use photographs of Katie, but only if they are not used in any way to lament the “lack of services” that some people blame for her death, and only if they are not used to call her a burden or paint her death as “understandable” or anything remotely close to that. Not Dead Yet, an organization that works against the idea that killing disabled people is understandable, has posted about the terms of usage of these photos on their Photos of Katie McCarron page, where the full-size photographs are also available.
Those are images of Katie McCarron.
They are images of a little girl.
They are images of a human being.
They are images of a person.
Standing up for the value of lives like ours — Katie’s, mine, and many others — can be exhausting. The level of biting hostility we get in response to saying “Murder is wrong” is astounding. But the next time I think of giving up, I am going to think of Katie and her grandfather Mike McCarron who is standing up for her, under pressure and amidst publicity, even at the same time that he is mourning a cherished granddaughter.
I am a Quaker. Quakers do not take vows or oaths. But we do speak as honestly as we can manage about what we will and will not do.
I will remember Katie. I will remember Charles-Antoine, who the world never got the chance to hear about except in pathologized terms. I will remember Jeff, Stephanie, David, Vanesa, and all the other people I left in institutions, some living, some dead, most without anyone to stand up for their value as the real people I knew them as. I will remember them with love. I will remember them with value. I will do my best to convey the fact that murdering anyone, including one of us, is an act of desecration that turns far, far, far away from love; it is taking all the beauty that goes into a person away from us forever. I will celebrate who we are and have been, and mourn who some of us will never get to become. And, like Mike McCarron, I will stand up to anyone who says otherwise in my presence. I will do all these things, not for the hatred that some accuse us of, but for the love and value of all kinds of people, those I have known and those I have not.