Filicide is Not a Feature of Autism.

Every time an autistic child is deliberately killed by a parent (known as filicide, committed usually a mother) there are usually 2 polarized reactions that I see in the autistic community.  The first is a chorus of parents saying "Don't judge.  Parenting is hard.  The situation was hard."  The opposing is to say "Autism is NEVER a reason to murder a child."

And it isn't a reason.  But there are many parents who murder their children, often in a murder/suicide attempt, whose children do NOT have autism.  And I thought 'What do these people share in common?'  Because there must be commonality there.   And perhaps we are having the wrong discussion.  Instead of asking about the children's characteristics, perhaps we should be addressing the perpetrators' characteristics.  And then formulating a plan to address them.  We discuss primarily mothers because they are the most likely to be the primary caregivers and males murder/suicide has characteristics that extend beyond the scope of this blog.

According to an NIH review mothers who commit filicide often have prior "depression, psychosis, prior mental health treatment, and suicidal thoughts."  Goals may be altruistic (believing the child would be better off out of this terrible world), psychotic thoughts, fatal maltreatment (neglect or accidentally killing in Munchausen syndrome), an unwanted child (often the cause of infanticide), and, rarely, punishing the other parent.

"The mothers were often poor, socially isolated, full-time caregivers, who were victims of domestic violence or had other relationship problems."  "Multiple stressors (economic, social, abuse history, partner relationship problems), primary caregiver status, and difficulty caring for the child were frequent." -Friedman & Resnick World Psychiatry. 2007 October; 6(3): 137–141. 

"Parents who commit filicide are more likely to have a severe mental disorder (schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, or major depressive disorder), prior contact with a mental health professional, severe depression, past suicide attempts, psychotic features, poor social support, and an abnormal relationship with the child."    In addition, they were more likely to have a specific delusion related to the child.

According to this same source, filicide is unlikely to be preceded by abuse, thereby bypassing the usual alert mechanisms the government uses to protect children.  Many of them are planned for days to months.  80% of the parents had had prior contact with a mental health professional and even the ones who hadn't had contact had evidence of mental disorders when family and coworkers were interviewed.

Even the parents who killed for 'altruistic' reasons often had additional stressors (such as financial.)  -Friedman, Hrouda, et al.  J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 33:4:496-504 (2005)

To sum up: parents often have mental illness, which may be undiagnosed.  They often have stressors: financial, family, societal.  They are often socially isolated and find parenting difficult.  People around them have been aware of mental health issues. 

This DOES sound like a lot parents of children with autism. 

I believe the first thing is to be aware that filicide doesn't affect just abusive, psychotic people.  It affects people with mental illness who have stressors that extend beyond their children.

It is time to take this discussion beyond autism, to parents taking care of many kinds of children.  To parents dealing with social isolation.  To parents coping with mental health issues.  It is time to be proactive.  To support in more tangible ways.  To refer to mental health professionals and to Child Protection agencies more readily.

It's time to make this a parent issue, not a child issue.

It's time to quit acting like autism is the only common feature.

Comments

  1. Well said. I especially liked "This DOES sound like a lot parents of children with autism." Oh well, it exists the world over and probably has from the beginning of time, but with today's instant world wide press these things "go viral" and get a lot of notice. Of course, with increased autism there are bound to be more instances of autism filicide. Sad, sad, sad.

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