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Dr. Phil’s Interview with Kelli Stapleton

As many in the autism community know, Dr. Phil aired part 1 of his interview with Kelli Stapleton yesterday. Part 2 will air today.

It was hard to watch for many reasons. What we’re witnessing, in all the splendor of the mid-day talk show circuit, is the complete destruction of a family. People’s lives have been left in shreds…small pieces they must gather up and try desperately to reassemble into some sort of grotesque mosaic of life that barely resembles their old lives. Three children who once had two loving parents, now only have the presence of one loving parent.

Kelli’s actions changed their lives forever. She knows that. The reasoning behind her actions clearly shows someone who was not in a mentally competent place. It’s obvious that living with the challenges of autism for many years was a contributing factor to her lack of mental stability.

But I wish Dr. Phil’s show had been edited differently. Was it necessary to see the same clip of Issy attacking Kelli, and Kelli’s piercing screams, four times? Granted, maybe they had limited access to video footage, but still…was it necessary, and was it even right to use it? How would Issy feel, having that played on national television?

As Kelli stated, Issy is a little girl who doesn’t want to hurt her family members, she just can’t seem to control herself. She’s a little girl with a disability who was exploited. She didn’t have a choice about what was shown on the show, and that’s not right. If they wanted to demonstrate the severity of aggression, they could have simply interviewed people who have worked with Issy.

In addition, I don’t feel like it was made clear to viewers that Issy is not representative of everyone’s autism. One study has suggested that as many as 58% of children on the spectrum exhibit aggression, whether that is due to autism deficits or a comorbid condition, is unclear. Despite this, it’s irresponsible to let viewers assume that Issy presents as the average autistic person. This portrayal only serves to enforce a negative stereotype about autism that is already prevalent in our culture. It should have been reinforced that the Stapletons were living under extreme conditions that don’t reflect everyone’s experience with autism.

Despite these glaring errors, there was merit in this interview if, for no other reason, than for Kelli Stapleton to let the world know that she is remorseful for what she did. I speak for no one but myself when I say that I needed to hear that from her. I needed to know that she was sorry, that she had an emotional response to what she’d attempted to do to her child.

I believe it’s an absolute truth that every single person has a breaking point. Each person’s breaking point will vary, depending upon the life experiences and personality of that person. So whatever combination of life events and personality came together, it found Kelli at a point where she no longer was able to make logical or competent decisions.

My hope is that someday there will be a set of protocols in place to address families living with chronic aggression and violence. It is simply not possible to live with chronic aggression and not be negatively affected by it. I have no idea what that would look like, whether it was mandatory, ongoing involvement of CPS with families living under these conditions, or something else in its place, but I fear that we will not see an end to tragedies unless we do something to help these families.

Kelli has been a friend to many in the community, and has helped many struggling families. I wish she could have helped herself. I wish she would have let someone else help her. I wish her family wasn’t broken and that her daughter wouldn’t always have the memory of her mother trying to end both their lives.

I wish…

I wish there were answers.

I wish there was peace for these families.

I wish there was more compassion in the world.

And I really wish there wasn’t a part 2 to this interview today.

 

But most of all, I wish for Issy to have some peace in her life. To be able to find her way, with support, and to cease being fodder for journalists and media outlets.

As for my friend Kelli, in her own words, she should “be in jail for a very long time.”

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