A parent’s love knows no bounds. But what happens when you truly believe your child is going to kill someone?
One family said they made a heartbreaking decision about their autistic son, they say, because they ran out of options.
Norval Wallen says around the age of one, their son was diagnosed with autism.
“He started losing words, he didn’t walk until 22 months,” said Wallen.
Along with developmental challenges though, they also noticed aggressive behaviors towards himself and others.
“By the age of 3 or 4 he would take a TV remote and crack it over his sister’s head,” Wallen said.
Now, their son is 14 years old.
KMOV has chosen not to identify him by name or show pictures of what he currently looks like.
Although he’s been in treatment in and outside the home and has medications, in the past year, Norval says their son’s aggression at home has gotten much worse.
“We’ve had broken bones, fingers, head concussions, tore eye retinas and this is almost a daily occurrence,” Norval said.
Police have been called on a regular basis.
The Wallens have reinforced their walls. They say each household item is a potential hazard.
“No help, no hope, not knowing what the next day is going to bring,” Norval said.
In-home services, the Wallens say, weren’t viable options. They claim the state was not offering enough help.
“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,” Norval said.
“I think the worst part is my sense is they think there is no other avenue to travel,” said Denise Gould.
Denise Gould is with the Advocacy Group F.A.C.T.
She says the Wallens are far from alone.
“Do you think we could see more problems like this in the future?” asked Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager. “
“I am afraid that we will. It has been increasing in the last five years, it’s been increasing at a rapid rate,” Gould said.
The CDC says that autism is the fastest growing development disability, the prevalence of which has increased almost 120 percent since 2000. Though some studies show autism rates may be plateauing in most recent years.
Many children with autism do not have the same aggressive tendencies.
Studies vary widely on how prevalent aggressive behavior problems are in children with autism. But the National Institute Health cites one study that says those behavior problems are present in 8 to 23 % of children on the autism spectrum.
Anecdotally, experts says they’re concerned they’re going to see more families in the Wallen’s shoes.
Children’s brains with autism are not functioning as other children’s are, they need intervention and they need services,” Gould said.
But recent cuts in funding, Gould say, has made providing those services challenging.
You’re left with bills that are extraordinarily high and it can be a financial and emotional dilemma for a family, very challenging,” Gould said.
It’s a problem that took KMOV’s I-Team to Jefferson City, where officials, too, say they’re seeing more children with aggressive autism behaviors–and not enough providers to help them.
“I think we need more providers and to do those services, yes,” said Marcy Volmer said.
Volmer with the Department of Mental Health says by law, they cannot discuss the Wallens’ case specifically.
But generally, they’re doing what they can to increase the number of providers.
They want to exhaust all options of in-home treatment before considering removing a child from the home.
“Children grow up and do very well in a family environment, not some artificial program, where you have staff rotating through, so we are very motivated to keep families together,” Volmer said.
But in cases of extreme danger?
“Can the state act quickly enough?” asked Trager.
“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.
Some families, though, do fall through the cracks.
“Unfortunately, yes there are families we can’t reach and I think sometimes it’s because they waited too long and they are so deep in crisis, they are so exhausted that they’ve lost hope. They can’t hear hope that’s being offered,” Volmer said.
The Wallens say, in their case, the state failed them.
“I think more could be done, I know more could be done,” Norval said.
“We love our son dearly, he’s 14, we don’t want to turn him over, but we are concerned with our survival,” she continued.
Since they spoke to KMOV, the Wallens made a drastic decision. They called the state and voluntarily gave up custody of their son. Now they could be facing charges for doing it.
That’s something that experts say is a real possibility in the state of Missouri.
The Department of Mental Health says the move to give up custody of a child is extremely rare.
The Wallens say they felt they had no other choice, but they’re trying to stay in their son’s life as much as possible.
If you know a family struggling in this position, you can go to a Regional Office for the Department of Mental Health .
You can also find some more resources here.
You can also contact F.A.C.T. here.