I am a 43-year-old autistic wife and mother to two beautiful autistic children. Our family is what I like to describe as ‘neurodivergent’: our brain and thought process is different to others based on our genetic make up. So it was with shock and disbelief when I learned that four people from the one family had died on Monday 17 October in Davidson, NSW.
The mother Maria Lutz, the father Fernando Manrique and their two children Elisa and Martin, all lost their lives as a result of a suspected murder-suicide. When reporting the incident, the media also cited, over and over again, that the deceased children were autistic.
This tragedy broke my heart instantly for a number of reasons. The first: two children had died before they had even been given an opportunity to live. The second being that if the incident was a murder-suicide or a case of filicide, then the children’s autistic personalities would be used by the press as an excuse for this horrendous act. I was right.
We all deplore what happened. Autism is not a reason for murder, nor is it a justification. Our lives, the very varied and celebrated lives of autistic people, mean more than that.
As an autistic parent, disability advocate and member of the community, I implore people, in the wake of the tragic Davidson case, to steer away from using ‘autism’ or any other disability as a justification for violence and murder. Murder is a crime. Domestic abuse is a crime. There is no excuse for either.
I implore people to reconsider their perception of autism. My family and I are all autistic. We are all loving, gifted and kind-hearted individuals with stories to tell and a life to live. We all deplore what happened. Autism is not a reason for murder, nor is it a justification. Our lives, the very varied and celebrated lives of autistic people, mean more than that.
I was diagnosed with autism just over two years ago. For me, it was an awakening. I knew I had always been autistic but confirmation of this was validation that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me; I was genetically different but certainly not wrong.
As a parent working in the disability advocacy sector, life can get pretty hectic with children and work. So to maintain a good work-life balance, we all accept and respect each other’s differences, a requirement for personal space and our individual divergent needs. That means, in our house, we listen, understand and try to be empathetic to each other person.
Don’t get me wrong, we are far from perfect and we all have our moments. With such different personalities and traits there are moments when the call out for support from the autistic community for guidance is necessary, but never once has the thought crossed my mind that the world would be a much better place without all of us in it.
My children have completed me as a person and as a woman. But I also require self-care. Advocating for traumatised children is a heart-wrenching job. I have anxiety that likes to show itself at the most inopportune times and it is very easy to burn out. So I find I require regular debriefs with my psychologist to help me through those times when I feel it is all just getting too much.
That being said, I wouldn’t change a thing about my life. My family, my community and my work are the three things I am so proud of.
For me, it was an awakening. I knew I had always been autistic but confirmation of this was validation that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me; I was genetically different but certainly not wrong.
My son, like Martin one of the deceased Davidson children, is an artist. He loves to draw Marvel characters and with each picture we see an evolution of his talent. He is a sturdy and tall boy for his six years and has the most adorable dimples when he smiles. He likes to goad his big sister, like all little brothers do, but in the same breath he is thoughtful and compassionate and will cry if he steps on an ant. If you asked him what he would like to be when he grows up, he would tell you “The Hulk”. Marvel is his world and in supporting him, it is our world as well.
My daughter is a gymnast and works so hard to perfect each tumble and flip. She is eight going on 30 and everyday I see more and more of myself in her. She is so determined, beautiful and headstrong and once her mind is made up that is it. It sometimes takes a compromise for my husband and I to strike a balance with her. But these are the lessons we hope both she and our son take with them into adulthood.
My husband and I encourage and support both of our children’s interests as would any parent.
I work in the disability advocacy sector. I see and hear stories of abuse of autistic children on a daily basis. It is hard to come home from that and not look at my children and hope that they never experience that level of abuse in their lives.
If you feel that life is getting the better of you, reach out.
As their parent, I can only teach them how to advocate for themselves if someone is hurting or bullying them. I sometimes find these conversations with them hard and I ask questions of my autistic friends on how best to approach some of these conversations with my children. I also thank the universe for them as they always give me the right advice.
If you feel that life is getting the better of you, reach out. There are some amazing autistic led groups in Australia such as The Autistic Family Collective who are more than willing to assist and redirect you to the right supports.
We have no idea what the universe had in store for Elisa and Martin; they were never given the chance to discover their future for themselves.
I also know that I will continue to celebrate my neurodivergent family and be thankful for all of our gifts, including that of autism.