Kelli Stapleton made her decision, according to police — vilifying her won't change that. But what if we decided to dispel the judgments and dissect this case in the name of change? Could we uncover the difference between a family's stress and a parent's surrender? Could we help ensure long, happier lives for individuals with special needs and their families? Then it's worth a try.

When I learn that someone has committed suicide, I feel sadness, helplessness and regret. What could have been done to prevent such a senseless loss of life?

When I learn that a parent has taken the life of a child, I feel sick. Angry. Betrayed as a fellow parent. Detached and judgmental. I want that parent to rot in prison.

This week, I learned of a different scenario. Kelli Stapleton, a mother in Northern Michigan, allegedly tried to kill herself and her 14-year-old daughter, Issy, who has autism. Both were found unconscious, and reports indicate Kelli will recover fully, but Issy may have suffered severe brain damage.

Online diary of struggles

By many accounts, including the diary of tumult shared via the mother's blog, the Stapleton family has faced and knocked down hurdles for years. By many accounts, the teen's violent behavior was an ongoing struggle. But the family seemed always focused on the next milestone, according to Stapleton's blog — even in the post dated the day she and Issy were found unconscious.

How long is your rope?
How long is mine?

So, what leads a mother to decide she will take the life of the very human she birthed? I don't know Kelli Stapleton and I will never defend murder. But this story has chilled me to my core, wondering how quickly any of our paths could twist in the direction of eternal surrender that Kelli chose.

"Never," you say. But do we actually know what led to such horrifying, desperate acts? Clarity may have dissolved. Resolve, patience and grit may have been eroding daily, until this mother reached the end of her rope.

How long is your rope? How long is mine?

Are existing resources enough?

Autism Speaks responded to the Stapleton case with links to resources for individuals with autism and their families, but surely Kelli Stapleton, active in the autism community for years, was aware of those resources. Why weren't they enough?

Blogger Jo Ashline has two sons, a 10-year-old who has autism, epilepsy and cystic fibrosis and a 9-year-old. Ashline writes as a mother of a child with special needs: "We are told we are strong. That God chose us. That special kids go to special parents.

We are commended, complimented, compared to saints… it's perching us upon dangerously high pedestals against our will, pedestals that prove wobbly on even the best of days.

"We are commended, complimented, compared to saints… When society isn't judging us in Target stores, it's perching us upon dangerously high pedestals against our will, pedestals that prove wobbly on even the best of days.

"We must shift the conversation, change the dialogue, open ourselves up to criticism from the outside world as we set fire to the pedestals that threaten to falsely define us, for the sake of ourselves and more importantly, for the sake of our kids."

Dig deeper for real change

We're wasting time on vilifications and speculation about the Stapleton family. For the sake of all families of a loved one with special needs, we need to let the justice system address Kelli while we decipher the tipping point for this mother.

Kelli Stapleton's actions can never be condoned, but we can do more to prevent a similar scenario by digging deeper. By trying to understand (not condone) what pushed her over the edge and then taking action based on the answers we learn, no matter how dark.

If we do not understand what caused Kelli to break and work like hell to fix it in our own communities and in the system, we are all at risk for it.

Is society failing children with special needs and, part and parcel, those parents who care for and are responsible for children with special needs? Answering that question isn't about feeling sympathy for Kelli Stapleton — it's about deciding to learn something from this tragedy. It's about deciding we can channel our findings and catalyze change.

Another blogger, Lexi Magnusson, has four children, including an 8-year-old with autism and a 2-year-old with Down syndrome. About the Stapleton case, Magnusson writes, "This will keep happening so long as we focus on the crime and not on the criminal and the victim... If we do not understand what caused Kelli to break and work like hell to fix it in our own communities and in the system, we are all at risk for it.

"All of us."

Read more about autism

Hate letter calls for euthanization of child with autism
Why I won't apologize for my child
When does autism begin?

Photo courtesy of: Kelli Stapleton via Facebook

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