The decision to separate yourself from your own child is one of the most difficult things a parent could face. But, is it sometimes necessary to make that call?
Norval Wallen’s son, who the family has chosen not to identify by name, was diagnosed with autism at the age of one. The diagnoses was heartbreaking, but it could have meant anything.
Children with autism might be extremely bright, and be able to talk, but be socially inept. Others might be affected more and be non-verbal or even aggressive.
Unfortunately, Wallen’s son would fall into the latter group. “He started losing words. He didn’t walk until 22 months,” Wallen told KMOV.
As he grew older, he did not improve. “By the age of 3 or 4 he would take a TV remote and crack it over his sister’s head,” Wallen said.
The family did all that they could for their son including different medications with in-and-out-of-home treatments. Nothing helped.
Now, the boy is 14 years old and much more capable of hurting others. “We’ve had broken bones, fingers, head concussions, tore eye retinas and this is almost a daily occurrence,” Wallen said.
The Wallens have been forced to call the police multiple times, and even reinforce their walls because of their son’s violent tendencies. They fear for their lives in their own home.
“No help, no hope, not knowing what the next day is going to bring,” Wallen said. Home treatments and medication haven’t helped and there are no other viable options for them left but the state government isn’t offering the help they need.
“The state wants us to wait until he’s age 18 to place him outside the home. But one of us will be dead before then,”Wallen said.
Now, without any hope left, the Wallens have decided to voluntarily turn over custody of their son to the state. It was a difficult, gut-wrenching decision, but they feared that keeping him at home would cost them their lives.
“We love our son dearly, he’s 14, we don’t want to turn him over, but we are concerned with our survival,” Wallen said. Their decision was hard enough to make and it might come at another price.
Even though they plan to stay in their son’s life as much as possible, the Wallens might face charges for giving up their son. Cases like this are extremely rare but in the state of Missouri where the Wallens live, criminal charges are a real possibility.
This case brings attention to the issues with lack of intervention and medical services that the government provides for children with autism. It is exceptionally dire considering how prevalent it is becoming.
“It has been increasing in the last five years, it’s been increasing at a rapid rate,” Denise Gould, of the advocacy group F.A.C.T said. The growth in autism prevalence is concerning and calls for more services to be available but, amidst budget cuts, the services have been difficult to provide.
“I think the worst part is my sense is they think there is no other avenue to travel,” Gould said about the Wallens’ case. Marcy Volmer of the Department of Mental Health still hopes that the state will be able to help other families.
“I believe we can,” Volmer said. “I believe we can respond to those urgencies and look to see where we can go to provide resources for this family.”
Hopefully, no other family will have to make the decision that the Wallen’s felt they were forced to make. Children deserve to stay with their families and be given the care they need.