A Mother Killed Her Son and It’s Not Not Our Fault

Last week in Florida, a mother drowned her autistic son.

This may seem unfathomable but it is not the first time a parent has murdered their child with disabilities. It will not be the last.

There is no room for excusing or legitimizing. The boy, Alejandro Ripley, deserved life and an opportunity to live it to the fullest. His mother took this from him in premeditated fashion and she should face justice accordingly.

We must not forgive this act, but we stand to gain from considering society’s role in such situations. Research has confirmed repeatedly that many parents of children with autism experience high levels of stress, marriage-related strain, impaired psychological well-being, exhaustion, and feelings of social isolation. Parenting a child with autism is, in some cases, a 24/7 endeavor. Some parents leave or lose their jobs. Some uproot their families in order to be closer to the best possible school. Some take out loans to pay for additional support.

This is not true for all parents of children with autism.

Most parents of children with autism that I know are happy. Most have typical functional or dysfunctional families. Most are employed, are in loving relationships, and have support networks.

I do not know the story of Alejandro Ripley’s family. I do not know if his mother is mentally ill, poor, traumatized, abused, or bankrupt. It does not matter. No justification can be offered nor rationalization accepted for this heinous killing. But lessons can be learned.

We must acknowledge that lack of awareness, understanding, and support in society play a role. A parent who feels alone and hopeless is more likely to take drastic, horrific steps with tragic consequences. A parent who feels understood and supported is more likely to reach out for help.

We must remember Alejandro and find ways to support parents in need of a helping hand.

About the Author
Judah is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Child Psychology and Special Education at the Seymour Fox School of Education at the Hebrew University. He is chair of the graduate division in Special Education and is a founder of the Autism Center at Hebrew University.
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