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September 6, 2013

Parents of autistic children offer perspective

TRAVERSE CITY — Parents of autistic children expressed empathy for Kelli Stapleton, a Benzie County woman accused of attempting to kill herself and her autistic daughter, Issy.

“I don’t judge her, and it was absolutely not the way to handle it,” said Sherry Ginn Richards of Interlochen. “But when you get to that point, you can’t think rationally. My heart goes out to them because I’ve been there, and I know what it felt like.”

A dozen years ago, Richards and her husband “knew” their 8-month-old son was autistic, but couldn’t get a diagnosis or help. Sounds and touch set him off, and he didn’t sleep at night, only taking three short naps a day. He cried incessantly, and Richards rarely slept.

“One night 48 straight hours, he cried. I put him in the car, drove for 45 minutes, hoping he’d fall asleep. He was still crying when he got home,” she said. “I laid him in his crib and he vomited from crying so hard. That was the moment that all I could see was a lifetime of this and no hope. I picked him up out of his crib, I was going to shake him, I hate to admit it. I was crying, I was screaming. And then I thought, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?’

“I went into the bathroom, locked the door and banged my head against the window. I put my head through the glass and sliced my neck up. I didn’t even feel the pain. They labeled me as suicidal, but I never felt like I was trying to kill myself, I don’t even think I was trying to hurt myself. I just wanted to dull my senses so I couldn’t hear the crying anymore.”

The moment was a wake-up call. Richards sought therapy for the whole family. Her son, now 13, takes academically gifted classes and has many friends.

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