I’ve been following the distressing story in the news of the murder of 10 year old Dylan Freeman, who had autism along with other severe disabilities, by his own mother. Its a story similar to ones I have read about before, where parents of disabled children reach breaking point and cannot deal with all the extra support they need to give to their child without anyone else offering them the help and support they need for themselves.
As a disabled person myself, I find stories like this incredibly difficult to comprehend. On the one hand, the way events like this are reported makes me feel that society still sees disability as a burden as the sympathy seems to lie more with the parents and how they have struggled to support the child in the lead up to their death rather than the tragic, often avoidable death of the child themselves. However, I also know from discussions with my parents and other disabled people & their families, how easy it is to reach that breaking point, when the support you require is not given to you and the only way you can get it is by shouting and fighting as loud and as hard as you can.
Even so, many reactions from the media, particularly abled journalists who perhaps don’t have personal experience on what it is like to live as a disabled person, or raising a disabled child, really don’t help the cause for disabled people and their families.
Take this article by Daily Express journalist Carole Malone. In it she writes:
No one can imagine the frustration, the desperation, and the helplessness of a parent who has to watch a child they love live a limited, painful life – one where they can do nothing for themselves, where they hurt themselves and others on a daily basis, where they are physically and often mentally incapable of doing even the simplest thing. A life where they have to be bathed, dressed, fed and helped on the toilet every day.Carole Malone – Daily Express Columnist, 22nd August 2020
Yes, it must be incredibly difficult and draining having to watch your own child struggle with things that many other parents and children easily take for granted, however the onus there, in my opinion, is put on the life of the child, NOT where it should be placed – why there is a lack of support in the first place for parents and their disabled children. That was only mentioned in a couple of small, throwaway comments in the article.
Instead of commenting on how sympathetic you are for the plight of parents & carers of disabled children, take time to think about what could actually be done to improve the situation so many parents don’t reach breaking point and the tragic murders of disabled children like Dylan are prevented. Things like more funding for health and social care services, more ongoing mental health support for parents, families and disabled children all living with the effects of disability, more awareness raising in society around disability discrimination. There are so many things the media, society and our government can do to change the lives of millions of people, yet they choose to look the other way and keep peddling the narrative of either ‘poor and pitiful’ or ‘scroungers and fakers’.
Disabled people are fighting for change, but we (and our families) have been doing this our whole lives. There is only so much we can do and so much backlash we have to take. Recent campaigns such as “#Metoo” and “Black Lives Matter” have shown that when people come together (even those who aren’t directly affected by the same prejudice and discrimination) and campaign & protest for equality and justice, change can start to happen. Stop with the pitying comments, sharing “inspiring” stories and patting yourself on the back for doing a ‘good deed’ for a disabled person, and instead help us fight for the support and equality disabled people need and deserve!