Lack of services does not cause child abuse

This post carries a trigger warning for discussion about abuse of disabled children and people sympathising with their abusers.

Apparently lots of people think it is ok to feel sorry for people who abuse their Autistic children because there is a “lack of services” available.

Let me be clear: I wholeheartedly disagree.

I am aware that my stance on this sounds judgemental to many, and that when I say what I think on this matter people are going to accuse me of not advocating for more services and tell me I don’t understand how hard their lives are. I’m not going to get drawn into arguments, here. Unless you know me personally you don’t know what I spend my time doing, or how “hard” my life is, so let’s try to keep those kind of comments out of the discussion please.

I honestly don’t want to get into arguments on this either. I’m simply trying to let people know how their words sound, and present the idea that there are those of us here who do not agree with the dominant conversation surround these stories. Sadly, when people hear a view point that brings into question their opinions, and ultimately their privilege, they usually get cranky. So I am prepared for the fact that as I speak about this topic, people will be angry with me. Unfortunately, I don’t know any other way to say what I think than this.

I do not think that lack of services causes child abuse.

In this post I am going to explain my reasoning. I am going to be as clear as I can, so there are (hopefully) no misunderstandings.

Abuse of a child is not excusable, justifiable, or more understandable when the child is ‘aggressive’, ‘difficult’, ‘challenging’, Autistic or otherwise disabled.

When an Autistic child is behaving in a way that most consider to be ‘aggressive’, ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’ it is usually because of a communication difficulty or sensory challenge that needs understanding and support, not a ‘behavioural issue’ that needs to be controlled.

Lack of services does not cause child abuse, a parents individual choice does. 

When an individual parent chooses to harm their child that is not solely a failing of the system, it is a failure of the parent to fulfil their role of loving parent.

When people choose to use a breaking story about the abuse of an Autistic child as the platform to say more services to support parents are needed, it sounds like they are saying the abuse is justified by the lack of support they receive.

When people choose to use a breaking story about the abuse of an Autistic child as the platform to say more services to support parents are needed, it sounds like they think the child is in some way to blame for their own abuse because they are ‘aggressive’, ‘difficult’, ‘challenging’ or disabled.

When Autistic people hear others using a breaking story about the abuse of an Autistic child as the platform to say more services to support parents are needed, they hear the message that their parents would have been (or in some cases were) justified in abusing them, and that people would (or in some cases do) feel sympathy for their parents.

When I, as a parent to Autistic children, hear people using a breaking story about the abuse of an Autistic child as the platform to say more services to support parents are needed, I hear the message that if I abuse my children you will feel sorry for me, and I am deeply uncomfortable with that. If I ever wilfully harm my child I would hope people would speak out against my actions, not support them by saying it was because I didn’t receive enough support.

There is definitely a need for more support services for both Autistic people and their families, but in the wake of the reporting of a crime against an Autistic child is not the time to begin advocating for that to happen. The appropriate thing to do when a parent harms their child is to condemn their actions. If people believe more services are called for they need to advocate for that all the time and separately from stories of parental abuse.

To finish, I am going to quote Zoe Gross, an Autistic adult.

“We should talk about supports that families need. We should talk about it when there are cuts. We should talk about it when lack of services makes it difficult for us to work, to go out in the community, to perform ADLs, etc. We should talk about supports and services until our faces turn blue – but NOT in connection to murders.

When someone kills their disabled child/children and our response is “this shows that we need more services,” we as a community are taking people with disabilities hostage. The implicit threat is “give us more help or the kids die.” Saying that parents are forced to kill their children by lack of services also destigmatizes child murder and excuses the parents’ actions. The truth is that plenty of parents raise children with disabilities under all kinds of circumstances, without killing or abusing them.

Service provision is so so very important but we CANNOT use child killing as a launching platform for advocacy on this issue. It will do more harm than good.”

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