Mom Accused of Trying to Kill Autistic Daughter -- Stop Defending Her!

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Kelli StapletonThe autism parenting community was dealt a tragic blow this month. Kelli Stapleton, a popular autism blogger and mother, was arrested after police found her unconscious, along with teenage daughter Isabelle Stapleton, in a van near Lake Michigan. Cops say Kelli was trying to kill the 14-year-old and herself in what's been labeled a murder-suicide attempt

Isabelle, who goes by Issy and who has autism, is recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning in a hospital. She's off life support and breathing on her own.

Her mother is in a Michigan jail, facing charges of attempted murder after cops allegedly found two portable charcoal grills in the car and the windows of the vehicle rolled up.

The situation is sad ... and troubling. Equally troubling are attempts to explain away what Kelli Stapleton is accused of doing last week.

I'm not a part of the autism community. My child is neurotypical. I can't pretend to understand what a day is like for parents fighting for their kids' rights, doing what Kelli Stapleton chronicled on her last blog post -- posted the very day of the alleged murder attempted -- on The Status Woe. Kelli had spent recent days struggling with the 14-year-old's school district to get her special education needs met.

Not easy stuff.

Still not a reason to try to kill your child.

I'm horrified by people who are calling for sympathy for Kelli. They seem to be well-meaning, politically correct attempts to be "understanding" of a life they don't understand.

I get it. If you don't have a kid with special needs, you don't know what life is like for a parent who does. Some would say I don't even have a right to wade in here.

But sometimes being on the outside looking in gives us a benefit of judgment not clouded by bias. 

The assessments that this life "drove" Kelli to make the decisions she's accused of, to make the choice cops say she made, are ... crazy. Even more, they're insulting to the hundreds of thousands of parents out there who have children at home with special needs, parents who would never think to murder their children.

Do we need to have a long talk about what resources are out there for parents of kids with needs like Isabelle's? Absolutely. We should talk about it now, and we should have been talking about it long before this tragedy.

But let's be clear: correlation is not causation.

Kelli's daughter's autism did not cause her mother to attempt a murder-suicide.

If Kelli did this -- remember, she's still innocent until proven guilty -- this is not about Issy. It's about Kelli. It's about her demons.

And it's not excusable.

What are your feelings about the crime here? Are you sympathetic?


Do you have suicidal thoughts or do you worry that someone you know might be considering suicide? There is always someone to talk to. Call the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK.


Image via Benzie County Sheriff

child abuse, crime, autism


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nonmember avatar Pam

"Kelli's daughter's autism did not cause her mother to attempt a murder-suicide."

Jeanne - you didn't interview the mother or know her personally, therefore you cannot claim to know what this mother's motivations were. Your judgement is noted, but still just an opinion.

Kate Towler

I am a mother of two kids with ASD. I am BLESSED to be in an area with resources. I can tell you that even though there are resources, it's about 7,000 dollars per month PER KID. THAT is the issue, especially in Northern Michigan. Autism insurance mandate just passed a year ago and is still trying to get providers to come to Michigan.. There are ONLY 31 ABA therapists in the entire state of Michigan... and the majority of them are either in Detroit or K-Zoo..

However, like many families, without any money in our pocket, we walked from our house and moved to an area that had resources. This Mom had a choice to make a LONG time ago, before she even got to this point, to get help for herself and or move or something. I agree with why you don't feel sorry for her and I don't either.

Ginny Alcorn-Frederick

I have an autistic daighter and yes it is hard at times but I would never think of killing her or my self and no I do not have sympathy for Kelli there is no reason to try and kill a child she definately needs help.

gabe05 gabe05

Until we have walked in someone else's shoes, how do we ever have a right to judge?  I am horrified at the idea of a mother killing her child.  I cannot begin to fathom how a mom would make that choice.  I do not sympathise with this mother, but I also cringe at the judgmental tone of this article.  This is a tragic story and my heart goes out to the family.  Isn't that enough?

faith... faith2009123

Where were the resources to help this family!??? Taken away by Republican assholes? Do you think? God help that mother and child!

nonmember avatar TK

What she did was awful and unexcusable. But this is America, and everyone is entitled to a defense.

nonmember avatar Deedee

I have a 6 yr old on the spectrum, also has ADHD and a mood disorder. It can be quite stressful at times. Thing is, though, I NEVER think about harming my son. I hope her jury is made up of NOTHING but parents with children on the spectrum, or full blown autism. THEY need to be the ones judging this woman. There is NO excuse for what this woman did.

I do wonder, though, if she has her own undiagnosed mental disorder. Still, there is NO excuse in attempting to kill her child.

Atty Garfinkel

In my humble opinion, it is better to surrender your child to someone else than to attempt a murder-suicide. 14 year old's are frustrating enough, add autism to that and I understand the frustration could be more than some might be able to handle, but there is never an excuse for trying to kill your child. There are programs that exist to help in such circumstances; also friends/family and even neighbors can help with respite care...

Kelly Smith

I have a 23 yr old autistic son with a seizure disorder and other challenges. He has the mental capacity of a 5 year old in the body of a man. It has never been easy but NEVER...NOT ONCE did I EVER think of killing myself and my child. I know what this life is like. I know how isolating and deeply troubling it can be. I have dealt with depression and a separation in my marriage  all happening within and sometimes directly resulting from our life with autism/special needs. Luckily  we are working on our marriage now, but special needs kids/adults are a challenge. There is NO EXCUSE for trying to kill your child. NONE. I have zero sympathy. The woman needed mental health help. It's one thing to commit suicide...but it is quite another to try to kill your child because it would be easier for you. Lots of autism parents/special needs parents may disagree with me but there is always an alternative...where there is a will there IS a way.

nonmember avatar Marcy

It's NOT OK to try and kill your child.

That's not judgement, it's a law. She can say whatever she wants "caused" her to do it. Her hands rolled up the window, so maybe her hands caused her to do it?

My opinion is that using her autistic child as an "excuse" for her actions isn't appropriate.

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