So many of the headlines we read about autism explore what causes it, how we can prevent it, and how families cope with the initial blow when they're told their toddler falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. What we don't hear nearly as often about is all the challenges and day-to-day struggles that can be involved in raising a child who has autism for the rest of his or her life. A story out of Florida, however, paints a picture of just how difficult it can be.
Last week Amanda Mathe says she was "overwhelmed" by caring for her 10-year-old autistic son, so she had a friend drop him off at a local hospital. The boy was left there, unattended, until hospital workers found him wandering about the emergency room.
On Saturday Mathe and her husband, whom she is in the process of separating from, appeared before a judge and tried to explain the inexplicable -- how a mother could abandon her own a child, a child who clearly needs her so much.
According to the Sun Sentinel, she said she's bipolar, has two other children to support, is unemployed, and is being evicted from her home. So while my sympathy is for this poor child who was left alone, I can also imagine just how difficult and overwhelming things must have been for her.
"I tried everything I could with raising Benjamin," said Mathe. "I didn't know what else to do."
While dropping him off alone wasn't the safest of choices, at least she didn't harm him. Because the sad fact is that some parents of children they find "overwhelming" do much worse. Last week in the spotlight was Yvonne Freaney, a woman who killed her 11-year-old son by strangling him with a belt in an airport restroom. She said she killed him so "no one could point fingers at him" when he was in heaven.
Heartbreaking and shocking, and those are just a couple of the recent cases that have made headlines. But behind doors in neighborhoods everywhere are families struggling and trying to the best they can in the world of autism. Some do better than others, but all of them need more support, more understanding, and clearly more resources for the times they do find life too overwhelming and the burden too great. Because at the center of every struggle is a child who is struggling, who didn't ask to be born with autism, and who needs help.
In the case of Mathe, the state isn't going to press charges, but rather try to find assistance for the parents. I'm glad. While child abandonment is never okay, criminal charges in a case like this aren't going to help. As a spokesperson for the state Department of Children & Families said:
They're not bad parents. We're talking about parents who tried everything else and got desperate, so we're working with them.
Hopefully this case won't be seen as sending a message to other struggling families that abandoning one's child is okay, but rather as a message to society in general that we need to find ways to help families before they get to that point.
Do you think this woman should have been charged criminally for abandoning her son?
Image via BLW Photography/Flickr