More than a year ago, after yet another horrifying story about a parent killing her autistic child, I wrote a post on how scientific research shows that filicide is almost always accompanied by mental illness.
Parents kill, not a lot of them, but when they do, it makes national headlines. Friedman and Resnick note that "the US has the highest rates of child homicide (8.0/100,000 for infants, 2.5/100,000 for preschool-age children, and 1.5/100,000 for school-age children), [but] the problem of child homicide transcends national boundaries (6). These rates of child murder are probably underestimates, due to inaccurate coroner rulings and some bodies never being discovered (4,7,8)." They continue, asserting that most maternal filicides involve some type of mental health issue.
In Colorado, the woman who confessed to smothering her six month old because she believed him to be autistic was found to be mentally ill and the prosecuting attorney chose not to pursue a trial. Instead, she will be evaluated and likely committed to a psychiatric institution. Both the prosecution and the defense will argue to the judge that this should be the course of action. Although she will not face prison time, it is unlikely this woman will be on the streets.
It's tempting when these horrifying stories about parents killing their children come out to play the blame game. Indeed, it's something we often can't resist. It's Age of Autism's fault because they present autism as so awful. It's Autism Speaks' fault because of that stupid sentence saying autism is more prevalent than three dreaded diseases. It's everybody who has ever complained about autism. It's everybody's fault but the woman who chose to kill her child. If only there wasn't negative things written about parenting a child with autism that woman wouldn't have done that. She was mentally ill. She chose, whether she was in her right mind or not, to take her child's life. That is not the fault of anyone on the internet, although it is comforting to think so.
What we should do as a society is to work harder to recognize and treat postpartum depression, to provide adequate assistance and education to new parents, to provide respite for parents dealing with disabled children, to make sure that families don't fall through the cracks.
As parents, we love our children, we take pride in their accomplishments, and we celebrate them in all their wonder. We also worry for them, fear for their future, and work to make the world a safer place for them. That means making the world a safer place for ALL children, making sure that no parents are without safety nets, that seeking treatment for mental health issues is not seen as personal failure but heroic and brave.