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Murder Ballad: Autism, Infanticide and the Pharma Footprint

Posted Jun 16 2010 12:00am

Garden of Good and Evil By Adriana Gamondes

If way to the better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst  ~ In Tenebris II, Thomas Hardy

On the night of May 31st, another parent killed another child ( HERE ), this time only on the suspicion that the child had autism.
 
Stephanie Rochester hadn’t been worn down by financial desperation or a fruitless search for adequate services. She hadn’t dealt with years of social isolation or intractable behaviors, endless night wakings, public meltdowns, life threatening seizures or violent assaults. Rylan Rochester had not been thrown out of daycare, had not suffered school abuse or been arrested at school for exhibiting behaviors associated with his disorder. Stephanie Rochester’s marriage had not fallen apart under the duress of disability.
 
But according to Rochester’s affidavit, she killed her son because she feared what autism could eventually do to her life, not what it had done. Conceivably due to her two years as a counselor for children with autism, raising a child with the disorder did not look like something she wanted to do.
 
In the end, it may never be known if Rylan Rochester even had autism because he was six months old when he was pronounced dead on the morning of June 1st, 2010. Stephanie Rochester has been charged with his murder. 
 
When I read some of the more sickening details of the crime— Rochester’s repeat trips to her son’s crib to check if he was dying properly, her later confession that she was concerned that she and her husband would no longer be able to have “fun” while raising a child with a disability— I suddenly remembered a very dark English ballad called “The Greenwood Side” or “The Cruel Mother” ( HERE ). 
 
She took off her reaping belt—all alone and so loney
And there she bound them hand and leg—down by the greenwood side-e-o

Smile not so sweet my bonny babes—all alone and so loney
If you smile so sweet you’ll smile me dead—down by the greenwood sidey-o
 
Murder ballads are song narratives about murder, sort of the tabloid format of yore. There’s a few different kinds—the crime of passion with a tone of either sympathy or condemnation towards the killer; protest ballads and first person accounts leading to the gallows; revenge killings and a subgenre of parent-murder ballads.
 
Most mother-murder songs began as narratives of young girls seduced or raped and abandoned who kill their children from desperation, a profile which fits modern statistics for mothers who commit infanticide—the majority of whom are teen mothers living in poverty.  The early mother-murder ballads are similar to certain slave narratives and the story of Margaret Garner, on which Toni Morrison based her Pulitzer winning “Beloved”, the tale of a mother who killed to spare her child a life of slavery. “Beloved”, like “The Greenwood Side”, is a “revenant” narrative of a child who comes back to haunt the killer, though the theme of “The Greenwood Side/The Cruel Mother” transformed over time from a murder of desperation to a coldly psychotic crime of depraved selfishness.
 
She took out her pen knife, long and sharp—all alone and so loney
 
After years of maintaining a single minded focus of keeping our vaccine injured children safe, the stories of parents murdering their autistic children—or now a child merely suspected of having autism— are incomprehensible to most of us. Reactions within the vaccine injury community seem to depend on whether the murdering parent succeeded in also committing suicide: generally the response to those who succeed is slightly more sympathetic. We know what they faced; we understand the lack of support, the financial devastation, the loss of relationships, sleep and health; the difficulty of sustaining hope and the potentially dismal fate of some disabled children after everyone who loves them is gone. 
 
But the response to those who don’t manage to kill themselves is generally condemnation and the rejection of any alibi or extenuating circumstance. All the same, parents in our community tend to distance themselves from the killers regardless, for the simple reason that we don’t want to consider what they did an option.



Not to give anything away for those who haven’t yet read “Callous Disregard”, but Dr. Wakefield is one of the few to write about the issue without leaving the wrong fingerprints on it. He manages to depict bleakness with great empathy. It’s very important not to strike the wrong note: though there’s genuine pathos in the stories of several parents who’ve killed themselves and their children, many of us resent the “siren song” of murder/suicide and have an aversion to any attempts to romanticize it because we’ve staked every choice on the principle that all life has value. In a world that seems bent on destroying our children—with an excessive and excessively toxic vaccine schedule; with deadly mainstream “autism drugs”; toxic toys, products, food, pollution; restraint, seclusion and abuse in schools and vicious legal attacks on any doctor who offers real help—we’re leaning into the wind to save our kids and become all the more committed.
 
The price of this, though, is having no shield of indifference against the increasing number of stories of suicide, murder and suffering. But before any of us are done reeling from thoughts of the last, lonely moments of the victims’ lives, we can go from shocked bystanders to prospective suspects in a flash. 

I didn’t remember the “Greenwood” murder ballad because I thought it exactly fit the recent crime. I remembered it because I was thinking about how perception is stronger than truth; I’m afraid it’s what the public increasingly perceives when parents kill their children with autism. 
 
There were few at the scene, but they all agreed
That the slayer who ran, looked a lot like me ~  The Long Black Veil, Wilkens & Dill

I don’t like the implication at all and I think it’s grossly unfair. But read the comments to any online news story on the subject. Put this together with press attacks on parents’ claims of cause for their children’s autism; Brian Deer’s and the New York and London Times’ insinuations that vaccine injury parents have inherent “mental problems”; the endless industry funded studies equating genetic mental illness in parents with risk of autism among offspring. The inference is clear: we’re all crazy. Neither parent gets off the hook in the New York Times ; it’s mostly mothers who are mentally ill in Reuters and the  Washington Post ; older autism dads married late because of genetic “liability” according to Geschwind. ( HERE ). And autism itself is being increasingly linked to violence, particularly since autism “expert”, vaccine defender and Wakefield-basher Michael Fitzgerald pronounced that Hitler had it ( HERE ), despite the fact that many of the idiosyncrasies listed by Fitzgerald can be explained by Hitler’s methamphetamine habit.  
 
Dan Olmsted’s and Mark Blaxill’s new book, The Age of Autism , couldn’t be coming out at a better time. I haven’t read it yet but I heard around the schoolyard that the authors make short work of genetic theories for both autism and schizophrenia. In fact, it seems the rate of adult mental disability in general has risen exponentially—from 1/5000 in 1850 to 1/71 today – according to Robert Whitaker’s research in Anatomy of an Epidemic
 
But the average person might not have thought through the logic of a “genetic epidemic”. And I wonder if it’s convenient to certain industries that modern murders of autistic children are framed in a way that silences the horses’ mouths as a whole—the families who saw their children regress from vaccines—by painting them as not credible and even genetically violence-prone by vague association.
 
As with the GMC trial, all the really filthy undermining is done by inference.  The depiction of autism families as desperate, irrational and “fervent”, coupled with slanted “research” and sensational but shallow coverage of violence threaten to paint autism as a social problem only in the unhelpful sense of being a “danger to the public”—making it so that anyone from an “autism family” can fall under suspicion for dangerous mental illness.
 
It’s extraordinarily tempting for the public to buy into a content-and-destined stereotype of autism when the reverse revelation—that there is an epidemic; that it could claim one of their own; that it was preventable; that the condition involves great suffering for many— might only bring terror and a haunting sense of social obligation at first. For this reason, occasionally poking the microphone in the direction of someone painting the joys of their “beautiful autism journey”—as Jenny McCarthy phrased it—only intensifies the false inferences in key ways. That doesn’t mean that no one living with autism should make peace with it; but to pull the ladder up behind themselves and their “peace” ignores all the genuine hardship faced by others. This in turn serves up one precarious little ledge of acceptability for most autism families to perch on: that of embracing autism as destiny with a floppy grin. Since so few can balance there convincingly enough, the rest of us are cast in deeper shadows of social doubt for failing to make it all look like fun. Some will crack open that much faster for being unable to keep up the obligatory act.
 
The sum total of these inferences might be increased public fear and reduced sympathy, which could serve to take pressure off the system to provide positive (but expensive) services and inclusion, while creating pressure to generate social controls—for which industry has many profitable solutions, such as more vaccine mandates (vaccines have been promised for autism and schizophrenia) and more social pressure to drug in order to curb “dangerous” tendencies.
 
As more and more cases of “autism murders” mount up in the press, I’m afraid that industry is creating its own “murder ballad”.
 
It would go something like this:

Autism’s genetic
Roses are red
Autism parents
Are sick in the head
Orchids are purple
Violets are blue
They murder their children
And endanger yours too
Daisies are yellow
Rosemary’s green
So don’t listen to parents
Who say it’s vaccines
 
But not all the murders and murder/suicides involving children with autism even fall under the same M.O. I haven’t seen any coverage distinguishing different categories of this type of crime. For instance, the murders of autistic children by William Lash III ( HERE ), and Segundo Duque  ( HERE ) appear to have been classic “paternal filicides” as extensions of domestic violence. This is the most common and “traditional” form of child murder in general, claiming the lives of scores of typical children every year around the world. These crimes may have had little to do with the victims’ conditions.
 
Unless new information on motives or circumstances have come up since the reports, American father Daniel McClatchie, Canadian dad Jeff Bostick and British mother Yvonne Freaney would appear to have been parents distraught with fear over their disabled children’s futures. Seow Cheng Sim and Satpal Singh may have suffered an added layer of isolation and fear for their children’s welfare due to being émigrés; Satpal Singh was also a single mother in dire financial straits who fell through the cracks of social services.

There have been autistic child murder cases like Diane Marsh, which had all the marks of murder as an extension of child abuse, or the similar case of Jose Stable ( HERE ). 
 
But there could be one extenuating circumstance in the recent murders of autistic children which takes top billing: that the crimes may have involved—or were confirmed to have involved— prescription drugs with black box warnings for violence, abnormal thoughts and suicide.

Karen McCarron 
Alison Davies 
Sarah Pullum 
Patti Becht 
Gigi Jordan   
  And now Stephanie Rochester 

It isn’t just autism parents at risk for violence on the drugs, but their children as well:

John Ogdren  
Sky Walker Steuernagel   
 
The murder of Rylan Rochester is especially disturbing and peculiar because, at six months of age, despite occasional diagnostic posturing of autism “experts”, no authority in the world could have truly confirmed whether he had autism or not, even if he’d been “born with it” due to prenatal injury. For this reason, murders of autistic children related to post-partum depression would be unusual. Even Rochester’s assumption that her son Rylan had autism appears somewhat delusional, though her fears could have been tinged by her work experience. At the very least she was jumping the gun of maternal intuition and, if so, did this stem only from her post-partum depression, or from the drugs she was taking for it? Because, though infanticide due to post-partum depression has traditionally been very rare, the risk of violence appears to increase when antidepressants are thrown into the mix. And some of the reasons given for the murders by drug maddened parents were no more or less bizarre than Rochester’s ( HERE ).
 
Even researchers who could by no means be categorized as “anti-drug” found that antidepressants increased the risk of postpartum psychosis ( HERE
“We do not know what would have happened if we had treated these seven women with antidepressants, but in our opinion antidepressant treatment could have put these patients at an unacceptable risk for exacerbation of symptoms. Similar to Dr. Sharma et al. (1, 4), we also have the clinical experience to be mindful that antidepressants should be used cautiously in the postpartum period. Over the last 4 years, eight postpartum patients were referred to our clinic as a result of very unstable illness course (manic and psychotic symptoms) after treatment with antidepressants.”
 
Several regulatory watchdogs have argued that, if certain drug safety trials had not been deeply manipulated by industry and if the FDA was not a captured regulatory agency, many antidepressants—like certain vaccines— would never have passed the drug approval process. But because people always have and always will take mind and mood altering drugs, and because I don’t think it’s appropriate to apply “moral objections” to temporary emotional painkilling (as long as pain is all that’s killed), I stop short of assuming the drugs should never be prescribed.  Many do feel that, considering the gamble of taking these medications, patients should be much more than “minimally” observed for radical changes in personality and mental status, suicidality and violent thoughts.
 
As it stands, psychiatry runs the prescription racket like a casino without a croupier—they have no way to predict when someone’s about to take (out) the house.  There’s no standard screening—also as with vaccines-- to identify which people on the drugs might be among the 1 to 8% who have serious or severe adverse cognitive reactions. The “Mother’s Act”, which calls for the psychiatric screening (and drugging) of women “at risk” for postpartum depression, was passed with few noting the irony that the woman for whom the act was named—Melanie Blocker Stokes— committed suicide…after being prescribed antidepressants ( HERE ).
 
For those who insist that it’s only underlying and long-standing mental illness which gives rise to violence on antidepressants, I’ll pass on a report from people who knew Stephanie Rochester personally: that she didn’t apparently suffer from mental illness prior to the birth of her son.  I’ll also repost a link to a database which decrypts FDA-Medwatch death, murder and suicide statistics for psychiatric drugs ( HERE  ), and an excerpt from an earlier post on autism drug marketing ( HERE ):
 
“Some might take exception to the use of suicide stats in the overall numbers, even though suicide statistics are far higher for those on the drugs than among unexposed patients with the same conditions. Objections are usually based on yet another goofy industry theory which sounds like something extemporized by a tween. It’s called ‘roll-back’. The idea goes something like this: people who are depressed don’t have enough energy to kill themselves but, when first taking antidepressants or other psychotropes—before the supposed ‘anti’ part kicks in—the drugs perk them up enough to carry out their preexisting suicide plans.
 
The roll-back hypothesis doesn’t explain the sudden mania, violence and suicides among people given the wrong drug by pharmacy mistake (i.e., Xanax instead of Zantac; Celexa instead of Celebrex), and those without psychiatric or violent histories who take the drugs for nonpsychiatric purposes (temporary insomnia, etc.). And, as Grace Jackson asks rhetorically in her first book, “Rethinking Psychiatric Drugs”, how much energy does it take to perform the easiest form of suicide going—the intentional overdose?  The theory is stupid, really, and the drugs are known to induce a condition called akathisia, which can range from “restlessness” to a sense of profound inner torture (
HERE ). Anything which potentially induces akathisia-like psychosis— such as the antibiotic Lariam, the anti-viral Tamiflu, and all classes of psychoactives to varying degrees— can induce violence and suicide. Many of the suicides and homicides we hear about in the news involving children in general and children with autism also involved psychiatric drugs ( HERE ).”
 
I don’t even know what to feel when I hear these reports anymore. I just want to lie down facing the wall, away from the abyss that seems to open up in the middle of the room at the thought of it. But I don’t because what I fear more than anything is that we’ll all go numb with nothing learned and nothing done about these tragedies, just barking clichés and verdicts from a safe distance like lazy cable news anchors. So, taking a prescription for emotional survival that Toni Morrison offers in “Beloved”— that the only way out is through— I tie a proverbial rope around my ankle, hand the end to friends and family and crawl up to the edge of the abyss for a closer look.  
 
From this vantage point, I can’t say for certain whether Stephanie Rochester was a selfish psychopath, pharma collateral or something in between: a mainstream mental health professional who took mainstream medicine and should have known the risks. And Gigi Jordan, former pharmaceutical company owner; and Dr. Karen McCarron, medical insider.
 
But I can see one thing clearly: this doesn’t have to be any of us. We may never be able to reach everyone; there may always be the rare cold blooded perpetrators—though it’s likely they would take greater pains to get away with it than some of the cases we’ve read about. There will always be people who view their injured children as disruptions to their lifestyles, or who view them as accessories, though I don’t believe that’s the root of most of these crimes. I think lies are at the root.
 
Lies that autism is hopeless and genetically inevitable;  lies that tempt weak individuals to choose socially acceptable explanations of their children’s illnesses over their children’s welfare; lies that turn the public into passive bystanders as the epidemic gallops on, as families are deprived of any support, isolated and mischaracterized. Lies that our regulatory and health authorities and the healthcare industry have only our best interests at heart; that majority science is always gospel and infallible. Lies that the answers to this and all that ails us are going to come from those who caused the disaster in the first place—because if that ever happened, it would probably be an accident. 
 
Speaking of lies, I think everything that Alison Singer purports about the epidemic is a weird and elaborate act of transference, a way to “share” what she felt as she drove across the George Washington Bridge with murder on her mind, so that others might feel it too. I’d be concerned that any parent adopting Singer’s prescriptions may suddenly find themselves reaching for the pills or steering towards water. It’s the GIGO principle really: “garbage in/garbage out” (or in this case, “bs in/desolation out”).
 
We’re not helpless against it. As a community, we’re already taking a hard look at the false information. We create safety in numbers, demand justice and amends. We’re learning what drives people to despair, raising resources and drawing maps to get through it. 
 
We can also treat each other carefully, remembering that not everyone is the picture of grace as they try to drag their children out of hell, and as almost everything they once believed in turns out to be toxic and false. Many parents may literally need to heal themselves of toxic injuries along with their children. But for some, it simply takes longer to rebuild their entire universe, and this may depend on how much they loved what they lost. It may also depend on the strength of the rope and the people holding it for them as they go into the pit to learn how to get their kids back.
 
I remember from doing advocacy for domestic violence that the root of the word “integrity” is “to integrate”. Many survivors seemed at their most fragmented and nervous shortly before they reassembled themselves, newfound data and truths solidly integrated, and became beacons of clarity. The transformations were pretty shocking sometimes, and it occurred to me that it’s only perpetrators who seem to insist that survivors are always “clouded by misfortune”—another lie for the scrap heap.
 
 As advocates, we only knew that the information, tools and perspectives we offered were sound because of what truth does—it makes decent people stronger. Lies do the reverse. There’s even a wonderfully humane hypothesis in psychology that I ran across at that time which fit what I saw firsthand: the theory of “Positive Disintegration” ( HERE ). From what I understand, Kazimierz Dabrowski argues essentially that reality is hard to integrate, that we’re going to go through difficulties before we can progress and be whole, and the more we take on and process, the more we evolve. Obviously this wouldn’t be much help for those with actual brain injuries, but I suspect it applies to most— not just those having experiences which force the reckoning.
 
Personally I’m not there yet. My hands still shake. My husband is still jolted if he’s reminded of the day we lost our twins—and the day we learned we might be able to bring them back. Sometimes the only thing we can do about it is laugh, but Morrison’s and Dabrowski’s prescriptions are good ones—we’re getting stronger every day, here at the edge.  There’s truth down there, somewhere. And when it’s done ripping us to pieces, it may even set us free. 
 
It’s just another unfathomable tragedy that some of the parents who killed seemed to take prescriptions from the other side. Sometimes figuratively in terms of hopelessness, sometimes literally. I often think Karen McCarron, who ventured at some point to heal the daughter she killed, was something like Persephone in hell who, in a moment of weakness, took pomegranate seeds from the hand of death. But did these parents set out to do or become what they did or were there accessories to murder? Does a similar theme run through almost all the cases of autistic children killed by parents driven to the wall due to circumstances, their own shortcomings, a reaction to drugs or a combination?  Because any way you slice it, pharma was often there, whether at the beginning or at the end.
 
I’m tired of letting a prime suspect fill in the blanks and write the “ballads” on what’s happening to so many people in our community. They never get it right and I’m sick of the tune.  
 
Adriana Gamondes lives in Massachusetts with her husband and recovering twins.

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