Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Killing Autism: The Case of Kelli Stapleton

Normally, I would put this post under Parents Behaving Badly, but the case of Kelli Stapleton makes this not so easy and may shed light more on a dysfunctional mental healthcare system than of a mother callously wanting her autistic daughter out of her life.

One thing I've learned from my years of pediatric nursing is that child abuse/child homicide is a multifaceted issue. Families under stress with limited resources can bring a violent component into the household as a way of managing tension. In no way am I justifying this as appropriate behavior but I can also understand how some people make these choices.

Kelli Stapleton is accused of trying to kill her autistic daughter, Issy, in a murder/suicide attempt by lighting two charcoal grills inside a van. The pair were found unconscious but both have survived.

Kelli's husband, in this People piece, says he'll never forgive her for her alleged actions.

If her actions prove true, then she should be punished, but perhaps this is a case where forgiveness and mercy should be given out in spades.

Autistic kids can be violent. But the services available to help families deal with these children are paltry at best. Even before the Sep, 2013 event, Kelli Stapleton had been on local news the previous March discussing her plight at the hands of her violent daughter. You can watch the video below which details how violent Kelli's daughter had become.

In one instance, Kelli had been beaten unconscious during one of Issy's violent outbursts. She was desperate to find mental health services in her community. Finally, she did find a residential facility that agreed to take Issy's case to the tune of $800.00/day. Part of the news piece below states the family was looking for additional financial support to keep her in residential treatment for six months. While in treatment, the residential staff determined that her outbursts were a result of her hearing the word "no" and she used violence to get to the person or thing she wanted.

What parents is not going to occasionally say no?

I've worked with families of autistic children. It is no easy road. I would never justify this mother's alleged actions but I can also understand someone coming to the end of their rope in a situation like this and perhaps making a choice out of desperation when there seems to be little light in hopes of continued community support.

I think what we need to consider is how paltry and ineffective our mental healthcare system is and what the repercussions of that can be.

Kellie Stapleton's trial is set to start this September.

What do you think? If Kelli Stapleton is convicted of these charges, are they understandable or unforgivable?


  1. Thank you Jordyn for understanding the bigger issue, services are pitiful and the mental health system is broken. Kelli is broken, her family is broken and this is a tragedy on many fronts. This could have easily been a case like that of Trudy Steurnagle and Skye Walker. I'm thankful every day Kelli and Issy survived and remain hopeful for both of their futures. Thanks again.

  2. I don't know much about the story you highlight. But so appreciate your compassion for desperate families. And each and every mention of our pitiful- grossly inadequate- mental health system has to eventually lead us somewhere better. Right? Please.

  3. Yes, our mental healthcare system is in definite need of reform. Thanks for your comments.

  4. A lack of services - actual or perceived - does NOT justify a parent trying to kill their kid.

    There is ALWAYS another option, regardless of the financial resources/insurance coverage of the family with the violent child -- sign the kid over to CPS and pay child support until she turns 18.

    It's worth noting the Stapletons had a TON of support:
    - 6+ mos respite from Issy while she was in RTF
    - 1:1 for all Issy's waking hours, funded by a coveted Medicaid waiver (whom Kelli had already hired/trained on her daughter's specific behavior plan)

    Kelli, by her own account, had flat-out refused to follow the advice of numerous medical professionals - ruling our meds for Issy, therapy for the whole family, therapy for her +Issy and short diagnostic hospital stays, all of which were covered by her insurance:


    1. Thank you, Carla. For adding your perspective and information. I appreciate it.

  5. In the Stapleton case there was no lack of help or services for the family and their daughter with autism. In fact, in my opinion there should be an investigation on where the money went which was collected considering we also learn from the vocal "mother" that welfare and insurance paid not only for the eight month stay when their daughter lived 200 miles away but also for one on one caregivers. Please continue to speak out on behalf of families who are in need of help. Just please find a family who actually needs help for your example instead of one where it appears a child abusing mother is using her daughter's autism to collect funds and attention for hersel.

    1. Brenda,

      I appreciate your comment. Thanks for your insight.