“TRUTH: an autistic boy or girl only makes life miserable for others, not for themselves, because they do not actually understand the problems that they have.one less autistic person = many more relaxed people.”
Terry Smith was a “hyper little boy” who is now dead. At the age of 11 he was murdered and buried in the backyard of his home. It is another sad story of a young life cut short before getting the chance to live life to its full potential.
Skyor Atilano is an “introvert” who is now in police custody. At the age of 16 he is alleged to have murdered his brother. It is another sad story of something short-circuiting in the mind of a young adult with lethal consequences.
I cannot imagine the pain a parent must experience in dealing with either of these situations. Terry Smith, Sr. and Shawna Smith have to deal with both. They will never get to see Terry grow up and will live the rest of their lives with the knowledge that their other son is accused of killing him.
The police have released very little information about the crime. In fact, they still have not positively identified the corpse as being Terry’s. This has not prevented some from publicly speculating about the details or passing judgment. Many of these comments have centered around Terry’s reported diagnosis of autism.
“Stan Tuesday at 6:53 PM
It is spectacularly irresponsible of this little boy's parents to fail to supervise him. Kids with autism are known to wander and at least three have died this summer alone by parents who couldn't be bothered to keep an eye on them!
This comment is indicative of a widespread ignorance about what it means to be on the autism spectrum. Autism is not a singular diagnosis and “each individual with autism is unique.” I have two daughters who are classified as being autistic and both are affected in mostly different ways. For example, it is common for children with Autism to have food issues and this is true with my daughters. However, with one this issue manifests itself as a difficulty in self regulating the speed in which she eats and the other having to separate each individual texture so that she eats at the pace of a snail. The seemingly contradictory warnings of “slow down” and “eat faster” are constants at my dinner table.
It is true that some children with Autism will exhibit elopement. However, “those with the greatest risk of wandering off were autistic children with severe intellectual deficits and those who do not respond to their names.” This does not seem to describe Terry. By his mother’s account, Terry was highly functioning and his symptoms, including being “over sensitive and...walking on his tiptoes,” were well controlled with medication. He was also able to respond to his given name, although its use would cause him to think that he was in trouble. He preferred his nickname Juju.
The commenter was correct in stating that three children have died this year after wandering away from their families. However, these parents deserve sympathy and respect instead of condemnation. All three died while participating in family vacations. Caring for a child with Autism is difficult enough within the confines of a regular daily schedule, but these parents went the extra step of respecting their children enough to include them in other adventures. These children should be allowed to experience life, not locked in a cage.
In denying that his son had autism by saying that his son was “very bright,” Terry Smith, Sr. also perpetuated false perceptions about the condition. These sentiments were repeated online:
Anonymous July 10, 2013 6:14 PM
“So sad! Totally agreed that this whole thing didnt make sense from the beginning! The fact that neglectful mother lets a 16 yr old babysitt an "autistic" child...when in fact According to Terry's 2nd grade teacher he was a very bright child! I'm thinking Terry was labeled a special needs instead of a very bright child to deflect any foul play from the immediate family members!”
While autism spectrum disorders (ASD) “can be associated with intellectual disability...some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art.” In fact, to be diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, which is on the spectrum, one must have at least a “normal” IQ. “Many people with this condition have significant intellectual gifts.” For them, autism manifests itself as significant trouble dealing with social situations in a variety of ways.
Even in a dark story like this one, if you keep your eyes open you find the best in humanity. For one, not everyone online was so quick to rush to judgment. For example:
Terrie Lynn Bittner July 12, 2013 at 01:17 pm
“It's amazing how eager people are to pass judgment. Without knowing anything at all, really, about this boy or his family, so many people around the net are making all sorts of unkind judgments. Remember this, you will be judged the way you are judging others. Do you want people to presume you are evil or a bad parent or a drug addict because someone wants to entertain himself at the expense of others?”
The outpouring of support from the community can also not be ignored. Despite temperatures that exceeded 100 degrees, hundreds of volunteers searched for the missing boy and donated supplies to keep the search going. Thousands of flyers were distributed in neighboring communities. Over 25,000 people online provided emotional support for a complete stranger by becoming fans of the Find Terry Smith facebook page. To me, this represents hope for our society.