This article originally appeared on Briannonlee.
Elisa and Martin died along with their parents and their family dog this week. Their murder was pre-meditated with a complicated system of gas bottles filtering a lethal gas through their ceiling.
As a parent of three children, the news of their death has hit me hard. Elisa and Martin’s faces on my phone, computer and TV are heartbreakingly beautiful in a way that all children are. They look happy, their young lives with so much potential. Just like my own children.
Their lives were taken from them, probably by one of their parents. An unconscionable act of filicide. As a mother who watches my darlings sleep at night, their little chests rising and falling as proof they are alive and well, I can not ever ever understand or condone a parent killing their child. Australians usually respond to filicide with an outpouring of grief at the loss of innocent lives. The media usually interview neighbours who talk of hearing them playing happily in their yard, and school teachers who speak of friendships lost. Extended family talk about Christmases, birthdays, and favourite toys.
We don’t know much about Elisa and Martin. Because they are autistic.
Despite the ability of crime reporters to trawl facebook, talk to neighbours, teachers, and extended family, Elisa and Martin are only known by the nature of their disability and the burden they allegedly were on their family.
“(She) used to tell me how hard it was on her and her husband having two kids who were deaf and dumb” – Manly Daily
“Distressed neighbours have spoken of the Colombian parents’ struggle with the children. Both 11-year-old Elisa and 10-year-old Martin were autistic.” – 7news
“But some believe the demands of raising two intellectually disabled children may have become too much for Ms Lutz — a dedicated volunteer and fundraiser — and her husband Fernando Manrique, whose children’s severe autism meant they were unable to speak.” –The Daily Telegraph
There are (at least) two problems with this narrative.
Firstly, it denies Elisa and Martin their humanity. As an autistic person myself, and parent of three autistic children, I know how important special interests are to autistic children. What did they love? What brought them joy? How did they communicate this joy? Who were their friends at school? What did they like to do at school? What did they want to be when they grow up?
They will never grow up. Their childhood and adulthood has been taken away. Yet all that commentators care for is describing the nature of their disabilities in a way which (let’s be frank here) is trying to tell people just how much of a burden they were: ‘severe’ ‘dumb’ ‘very high complex needs’. Describing autism in this way is completely offensive to disabled people, including nonspeaking autistic adults.