Saturday, June 24, 2006

Disabled children beware!

Stories on alleged crimes said to focus too much on daughters' disabilities

Saturday, June 24, 2006


PEKIN - Recent media coverage of mothers being charged with killing or attempting to kill their disabled daughters solicits sympathy and understanding for the heinous acts, a national disability rights organization says.
The news stories, complains Chicago-based group "Not Dead Yet," focus more on the children's disabilities than the alleged crimes.

"Coverage of the alleged murder of Katie McCarron has been dominated by discussion of autism, poor support services and an alarming parade of parents seemingly eager to tell the public they've felt like killing their own kids with disabilities," said Stephen Drake, a researcher for the group, in a prepared statement.

Karen McCarron, 37, of Morton is charged in the May 13 suffocation death of her 3-year-old daughter, Katherine "Katie."

On Thursday, Kellie Waremburg, 32, of Pekin was charged with attempted murder for allegedly giving her daughter, Lexus Fuller, 4, a potentially lethal overdose of medication on Wednesday.

The cases of McCarron, who had autism, and Fuller, who has cerebral palsy, were handled differently than cases not involving children or disabled persons, Drake complained. He said the girls' disabilities should not be stressed in media coverage because they may have had nothing to do with why the parents did what they did.

Journal Star Managing Editor Jack Brimeyer said Friday he stands by the newspaper's coverage.

"The Journal Star, as it's done for 150 years, simply did its job of providing background and context on news events of great import to many readers," he said. "People wanted to know about autism and cerebral palsy and the challenges of each. We presented facts plus the opinions of experts and others. And now the opinions of this group."

Lisa Brabec of Dunlap, the parent of a severely physically and mentally handicapped 8-year-old, said media coverage should not focus on "trials and tribulations of having a child with special needs."

"I think what it does is perpetuate the feeling of pitying these children. There are so many families out there who embrace the child, love the challenge and are humbled by what is in front of them - not burdened or discouraged," Brabec said.

Drake also criticized the Autism Society of Illinois and the Peoria-based ANSWERS autism support group for indicating that feelings of desperation are normal among families that have disabled children.

"Will this increase the acceptance of children with disabilities in our schools and neighborhoods?" Drake asked.

Libby Taylor, president of ANSWERS, said her group does not advocate murder. The group, however, wants people to know that desperation and distress among parents of autistic children is a fact and there are not adequate support services.

"It is very hard" to raise an autistic child, Taylor said. "It could move any normal person to be a different person and consider things they never considered before."

Although the McCarron murder is tragic, it has brought autism to the forefront, helped educate the public about autism and encouraged communities to recognize needs, Taylor said.

"Until now, your average home did not know what autism was, let alone (know) where to get services or a diagnosis," Taylor said. "If anything, we thank the media for putting the spotlight on the disability because these children need help."

Taylor's organization has received numerous calls from parents of autistic children since the McCarron murder.

"Now, people are starting to move. Parents are now starting to recognize some of the early symptoms because they are familiar with the term," she said.

Karen McDonald can be reached at 346-5300 or