An open letter to the Dr. Phil Show,
Your response to the criticism of your interview of Kelli Stapleton from those of us in the Disability and Autistic Rights Community is disappointing, but unfortunately, not surprising.
“The Dr. Phil show is proud to continue to shine a much-needed light on autism spectrum disorder, continuing a 13 plus year commitment to educate the American public about the challenges faced by these children and their loving families.”
Your first point completely invalidates the existence of Autistic adults. Autism doesn't end at childhood and there are numerous Autistic adults out there, speaking their truth. If you had listened to any of the criticism of your interview with the attempted murderer of Issy Stapleton, you would know that.
“It is important to separate the need to condemn the outrageous behavior of her clearly emotionally troubled mother, while remaining sensitive and sympathetic to the frustrating plight of all parents with autistic children who struggle in their quest for services, help and resources.”
First of all, we do not do autism to other people. We are Autistic. It is our neurology. The fact that there are few services is not our fault. We do not exist to frustrate you, or to make you struggle, or to have our very existence described as a “plight” on our parents. If you want to talk about lack of services, talk about the lack of adult services. Because in comparison to services for families, we have nothing. Or better yet, talk about the QUALITY of services in relation to how they respect the dignity, autonomy and neurology of Autistic children and adults. Because very few services are about us and supporting us in meaningful, healthy ways that respect the agency and autonomy of Autistic people. So, if you want to talk “services” talk about that.
And if you’re going to talk about services, you better damn well make it a separate conversation from incidents where parents and caregivers abuse and murder us. Lack of services does not excuse abuse or murder. It just doesn’t. Attempting to tie the lack of services to these incidents is giving these abusers and murderers excuses. It will happen again, as it has happened over and over to Autistic children and adults.
The list goes on and on and on. The list keeps growing because society keeps finding excuses to make sure that Disabled lives are disposable lives.
“The victim in this particular situation is, of course, the child. To suggest that anyone associated with the telling of this heart-breaking story believes otherwise is insulting, absurd and irresponsible…
This reckless rhetoric is counter-productive to the battle to make gains on both research and treatment levels. To anyone who has actually watched the program in its entirety, our views on this issue were clear, and intended to provide a complete understanding of Kelli Stapleton’s mindset.”
I am angry. You give a voice to our abusers, but you silence those of us who are tired of the excuses. We are tired of being held hostage to the “services” you want for us. We are tired of having to watch our people being killed, abused, held up as examples of tragedy and what-you-have-to-put-up-with. You erase our humanity and reduce us to inconvenient objects that exist solely to burden those around us. Yet, you call us “irresponsible”.
You claim that you want to tell a “heart-breaking story” but you only told one side. The side of the would be murderer. The side of the person who publicly held her child up to be ridiculed and humiliated. Who filmed her daughter at her weakest, most vulnerable moments, the moments where she needed her mother to understand her the most, and made it all about HER own feelings. You ignored the hours and hours of intensive behavioral interventions that Kelli Stapleton even bragged that therapists begged her to back off of. Did you ever wonder what those types of behavioral interventions do to the recipient? Did you ever wonder WHY Issy lashed out?
Behavior is communication. Always, always, always.
When a child is lashing out with aggression and frustration, you try to find out why. When that child is Autistic and has impairments in the ability to communicate, you give that child the tools to communicate in whatever way they can and you LISTEN.
Was Issy given the tools to communicate more effectively? No, she was given “behavioral interventions”. She was given forced compliance. She was given endless hours of ridiculous drills to force “indistinguishability” on her. Her neurology was not respected. Her disability was not accommodated. She was not supported appropriately. Is it any wonder she lashed out? Remember, she is a CHILD!
“As Dr. Phil stated during the broadcast commenting on Ms. Stapleton’s decision to another desperate mother … ‘Ending the life of your child, even if you sacrifice yourself in the same act, is just simply not an option. It’s just not something that you have the right to do…”
Your actions speak louder than your words, Dr. Phil. You sympathized with Kelli Stapleton. You called her “desperate”, her story “heart-breaking” . Her story, not her violent and abusive acts. Her story, not Issy's story.
Kelli Stapleton was not a mother “desperate” to accommodate and support her child. Kelli Stapleton was a mother who was desperate to have a non-Autistic child. Don’t you forget that for one second. Because Issy can’t. Those of us who have stood in Issy's shoes, we will not forget either.
Lastly, how DARE you tell us our rhetoric is counterproductive? HOW DARE YOU?
You did not even listen to the criticism of your show. Clearly, since you did not address any of the points that Autism and Disability activists tried to bring to your attention. If you did listen, you would know that “research and treatment” is not what we need. We need support. We need accommodations. We need for people to stop celebrating our murderers and abusers by sympathizing with and broadcasting their side of the story while dehumanizing and devaluing our lives.
We matter. Our lives are more than how we make you feel about Disability and Autism. Our lives are our own. We have thoughts, feelings, interests, abilities, challenges and personalities that matter. Stop talking about us, without us. Stop ignoring and silencing our voices.
If Issy Stapleton were a typically developing child whose mother tried to murder her, would you even be trying to find a reason or an excuse? Ask yourself that question and then tell me whose rhetoric is reckless and irresponsible.