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Former Board Member of Autism Advocacy Group Charged With Abusing Her Autistic Son

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A former board member of the Kalamazoo Battle Creek Autism Society in Michigan is facing charges of child abuse against her 16-year-old nonverbal, autistic son.

The investigative team at WWMT, a local news channel in Michigan, obtained footage from the police that appears to show Fielding hitting and cursing at her son, as well as hitting him with a toilet plunger and threatening to kill him. The videos were secretly taken by Fielding’s 13-year-old son. Both boys are now in the custody of their father, who is divorced from Fielding.

Fielding stepped down from the board of the local advocacy group, which was a mutual agreement between the society and Fielding, Trina Wood, the society’s president told WWMT. It is unclear whether or not this happened before or after the abuse allegations.

Scott Badesch, president of the Autism Society of America, told The Mighty, the Kalamazoo Battle Creek Autism Society lost its affiliation with the Autism Society of America two months prior to the abuse allegations going public. The national organization said it was because the local society did not meet the standards set forth by the national organization. Badesch added that he is following the case.

“We hope that there is a full prosecution of this case, no allowed plea bargaining, and if the individual is determined guilty by a court of law,  that she receive the maximum penalty provided for by law,” Badesch said.

The inclusion of Fielding, a woman accused of abusing her autistic son, on a board meant to advocate for autistic people, highlights a recurring issue of who gets to represent people on the spectrum in organizations meant to serve their best interests.

While it is unclear if the Kalamazoo Battle Creek Autism Society’s board included any autistic adults, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) states how it’s integral for autistic people to be included in leadership positions within these organizations:

Organizations that do not include any autistic individuals in their leadership and decision-making processes are deeply unrepresentative of the community and damaging to those they purport to represent. Advocacy efforts should be conducted for the benefit of, and always with the meaningful involvement of, the autistic population as the primary stakeholders.

Speaking to WWMT about the charges facing Fielding, Wood, president of Kalamazoo Battle Creek Autism Society, told the station it’s hard to raise a child on the spectrum. “Nobody knows what it’s like to raise a child with autism,” she said. “We never ever condone abuse or negative behaviors, but it is extremely difficult to, day in and day out, meet the needs of a child with autism, especially when they’re nonverbal.”

According to the Ruderman Family Foundation, this “hardship narrative” is often used by caregivers to justify abusing people with disabilities. In a white paper examining media coverage of murders of people with disabilities by caregivers, this narrative was found to be “fundamentally not true.” It also promotes lenient sentencing for offenders and potentially more violence against those with disabilities.

The Mighty has reached out to the Kalamazoo Battle Creek Autism Society and has yet to hear back.

Photo by ChiccoDodiFC

Originally published: January 9, 2018
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