Wednesday 31 August 2016

Filicide and autism

"The choice of the victim was in line with emerging evidence indicating that children with disabilities in general and with autism in particular are frequent victims of filicide-suicide."

The case report presented by Declercq and colleagues [1] reflects yet another uncomfortable topic discussed on this blog and how the 'deliberate act of murdering ones own child' is something unfortunately not unfamiliar when it comes to the label of autism. Declercq et al provide quite a raw account of paternal filicide and how circumstances and state of mind may have been important variables in determining the eventual outcome. Not least is the intersection between "schizoid personality disorder and homicide and violence" that appears to have been linked to such an act (minus any sweeping generalisations).

This is not the first time that the words 'filicide' and 'autism' have appeared together in the peer-reviewed science domain as per other examinations of media reporting of such acts [2] that have revealed a disturbing trend when it comes to "disabled children as victims of filicide-suicide." The fact that some authors have even gone as far as talking about "prevention strategies" [3] specifically with filicide in families with autistic children should tell you that despite being an uncomfortable discussion, this is not something that can be just brushed under the carpet.

Having read about quite a few accounts of filicide-suicide where autism has figured down the years and the many and varied responses to such acts (see here and see here for example), it's clear that there are a number of different viewpoints when it comes to this emotive topic. Murder is murder and that point should never be forgotten; made all the more harrowing by the fact that it was a parent and a trusted caregiver who carried out such a heinous act. Irrespective of circumstances, the murdered child is the victim; let us not forget that.

I also believe that it is right to research and question how and why such acts come about. In the same way that the motives of autistic people who themselves kill a parent (although rare) need to be understood, so one needs to know what might drive a parent to kill their child with autism. Such questioning does not condone such actions; neither does it or should it lessen the impact of such actions. It merely highlights the idea that to know why such acts occur can potentially prevent further instances happening in other cases. If such knowledge saves only one child, it will be worthwhile.

I'm not going to venture further into the possible reasons why parents murder their children - whether with autism or not - because they are likely to be complex and variable from case to case bearing in mind that becoming a parent does not automatically make a bad person into a good person. What I will reiterate is that murder is murder and if there is even the slightest hope that science can identify factors that might place a child at risk, resources aplenty should be poured into looking.


[1] Declercq F. et al. A Case Study of Paternal Filicide-Suicide: Personality Disorder, Motives, and Victim Choice. J Psychol. 2016 Aug 18:1-13.

[2] Coorg R. & Tournay A. Filicide-suicide involving children with disabilities. J Child Neurol. 2013 Jun;28(6):745-51

[3] Palermo MT. Preventing filicide in families with autistic children. Int J Offender Ther Comp Criminol. 2003 Feb;47(1):47-57.

---------- Declercq F, Meganck R, & Audenaert K (2016). A Case Study of Paternal Filicide-Suicide: Personality Disorder, Motives, and Victim Choice. The Journal of psychology, 1-13 PMID: 27537187

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