Last Friday, a 10-year-old autistic boy was found wandering in the ER room at Broward General Medical Center. Police in Fort Lauderdale said a man in his 30s driving a minivan dropped the boy off around noon and then left, says the Sun-Sentinel. They were eventually able to find out that the boy’s mother, Amanda Mathe, had abandoned him because she was “overwhelmed” and could not find anyone to help her. The boy, whose name is Benjamin, is now in the custody of Florida’s Department of Children & Families and has been placed in a foster home with experience in caring for children with special needs.
Mathe, who has two other children, is going through separation from her husband, has no job and is being evicted from her foreclosed home. She’s also said that she is bipolar and she had “tried everything I could with raising Benjamin.” Noting that he has “serious behavioral and medical issues” and ”gets very violent on reactions to any medication,” she had told Benjamin’s father that, if she “could not handle this,” she would “put him in DCF.” Regarding her recent separation and her husband, Erick Mathe, leaving South Florida, Mathe said to WSVN,
“On the day that we moved in, it was, ‘Here’s Ben. Bye-bye,’ so I had all three kids,”.When I was trying to contact Mr. Mathe, he wouldn’t return any calls, he wouldn’t return my e-mails.”
Erick Mathe, who only found out what happened to Benjamin from news reports, is currently seeking custody of all three of his children.
The state is not pressing charges on the parents and is allowing them unsupervised visits with their son until a hearing next week. Mark Riordan, a spokeman for DCF, has said that
“”Instead of looking at this like a child abuse- or a criminal abandonment-kind of case, it’s one of those where we’re going to do everything we can to make sure the boy receives the services he requires and the parents receive the assistance and the help that they need at this point.
“”They’re not bad parents. We’re talking about parents who tried everything else and got desperate, so we’re working with them.”
Commenting on this story, Julie Ryan Evans at The Stir says:
So many of the headlines we read about autism explore what causes it, how we can prevent it, and how families cope with the initial blow when they’re told their toddler falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. What we don’t hear nearly as often about is all the challenges and day-to-day struggles that can be involved in raising a child who has autism for the rest of his or her life.
She’s right. The main stories about autism in the news are relentlessly about causes — I just wrote yesterday about some new study asking if the “absence of breast-feeding” puts a child at “increased risk for autism.” Last week the main news about autism was about whether “environmental” factors like maternal age and whether a mother was taking anti-depressants while pregnant might increase “autism risk.” That is, the majority of autism news the average person hears is about studies and theories about how to prevent future cases of autism.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of families with autistic children exhausted from caring for children who need extra supports; cuts to services (to early intervention funding in New Jersey) and the govenment shutdown in Minnesota make it even harder. There are also lots of autistic adults out there in need of supports. Autistic children get the lion’s share of attention in photo-ops, but autism is a lifelong disability and many, including my teenage son Charlie will need supports throughout their lives.
This is not to say that children like Benjamin and my son are “burdens”: Given the appropriate education and supports, autistic children and individuals can thrive and contribute greatly, as a New York Times article on a company that draws on the unique abilities of autistic persons attests to. It’s not easy raising my son but it’s also not impossible and it’s certainly not a nightmare — indeed, a nightmare situation to us would be what happened to a family in British Columbia, when a state agency removed an autistic girl, Ayn Van Dyk, from the home where she is loved and cared for. The abandonment of Benjamin Mathe is a stark reminder that we need to do a lot more to support autistic individuals and those who care for them by providing, and funding, services and supports in the community.
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