I Love You I Hate You: Autism and the Tragedy of Adam Wilson
Below is a powerful post by Dan Burns father of an adult son with autism about Adam Wilson, who stabbed his father to death - and how his family tried to help him before the tragedy occured.
By Dan Burns
Adam Wilson's favorite food is lobster, but he's not likely to get that in the Tyler county jail. He's accused of killing his father. "Why can't I go home?" he asked his Grammy. "Is my family mad at me?" Adam has autism.
I'm about to share a story. It's a story of a family's love for their disabled child, and his love for them. It's also a disturbing story, having themes familiar to parents of children with autism, like my adult son Ben: sleeplessness, mood swings, obsessive-compulsive behavior, the need for routine (and the child's frustration when plans go awry), and the unpredictable effect of sedative drugs. The possibility of a brain injury. Misplaced faith in a medical establishment still largely clueless in the face of this disease. A family's anguish as their child disintegrates before their eyes.
A few weeks ago week I presented Adam Wilson's story as told by the media. This week I go behind the headlines and present the untold story as shared with me by a family member. This story moves me because it could be my story. My son, Ben, is about the same age as Adam, and has many of the same issues. In subsequent blogs, I'll invite you to explore many questions the story raises: What did Adam's family do right? How, where, and why did the system fail? And how can we prevent such tragedies in the future and help surviving victims?
Act 1 -Adam's 21st birthday
In the piney woods of East Texas, about 25 miles east of Tyler, a beautiful stretch of road runs over the hills between the villages of Arp and Overton, the home towns of Adam Wilson, a young adult with autism; his father David; and Barbara, Adam's beloved "Grammy." It was the weekend of Adam Wilson's 21st birthday, Friday, July 30th. Ashton, his sister, had called and invited him over for a birthday visit on Saturday. David, his father, and Barbara, his grandmother, agreed to let him go. (Adam's biological mother had been killed in an automobile accident, with Adam in the car, when he was eight). All went well, and Ashton called that evening to ask if Adam could spend the night. Barbara hesitated -- that request rang a few bells for her -- but Adam got on the phone and begged to stay.
"Are you OK?"
"Sure," said Adam. "I'm having fun."
She and David agreed.
When Ashton brought Adam home on Sunday after church, Barbara noticed a change. Adam seemed frustrated. He wouldn't talk. He made himself cup after cup of hot tea, slamming the microwave door each time. He paced, circling Barbara's house, then tramped through the woods to calm himself, pausing to circle David's house about a mile away, as was his wont. But Sunday afternoon was different. Adam walked back and forth between the houses for hours and wouldn't stop. David sensed serious trouble. Monday morning, he called Adam's physician but didn't get a return call.
Act 2 - Laid off
By the middle of the week, Adam's agitation had increased.
His father made more calls to the doctor, and still got no response.
Adam's mood continued to darken. With no job, no school, and nowhere to go, his agitation increased. He stopped sleeping and took up pacing even during the night, the only way he knew to calm himself, seeking comfort in constant motion. But it wasn't working.
Midnight, Friday, August 13, barely a sliver of a new moon, Barbara heard the back door open and the microwave slam shut. She got up and found a taxi parked in the driveway. Adam felt himself slipping out of control and had called a cab to take him to the hospital.
Barbara and her husband drove him instead.
At the ER, they asked the doctor to admit him for observation; but with only one bed available, and that in a charity ward, the hospital would not accept Adam because he has Medicaid. The ER doctor prescribed Ambien, a fast-acting hypnotic whose side effects include blackouts, amnesia, and hallucinations, and released him at 8 o'clock on Saturday morning.
Barbara got one Ambien down him. It was supposed to relax him, but it seemed only to increase his agitation. He roamed all day Saturday and all Saturday night, with Barbara, exhausted, watching out for him. Adam had not slept for days.
Act 3 - Murder
By Sunday morning, Adam had dark circles under his eyes and had become like a different person, a stranger to those who loved him. On the back porch, as the family was ready to leave for church, Adam punched Barbara in the shoulder....
Read the full post at the Dallas Morning News Blog HERE.
Dan E. Burns, Ph.D., is Adult Issues Liaison for AutismOne and the author of Saving Ben: A Father's Story of Autism. Get the full story HERE . Burns is developing the Autism Trust USA, modeled on The Autism Trust (U.K.) and focused on the creation of new campus communities where adults with autism can work, live and improve their skills and talents in a creative and supportive environment.
Doctors who don't educate themselves about autism and neglect patients thus leading to deaths or harm should stop practicing medicine. Go work at a donut shop or library..some place u can't kill people w your willful ignorance and disregard for human life.
Posted by: Flo | February 15, 2016 at 10:51 AM
The original Dallas Morning News blog (on which the Age of Autism post was based) and follow-up stories were fact checked, amended, and approved in the fall of 2010 through telephone conversations and private correspondence with two of Adam’s relatives who live close to the scene. In researching the story further, I attended Adam’s Smith County trial and I met in person with three of the family. The meeting was cordial and resulted in invitations to continue the relationship.
I check in on Adam every few months through email with a supportive relative. Another relative wrote me to say, "I relive the sequence of events each day, wondering if I had done something differently would it have altered the outcome. There are many ‘children’ in similar situations that I have met while visiting Adam. If the truth about Adam will help others, we will continue.”
Through the Canary Party, I’m working on behalf of other families and young adults like Adam. We may be able to prevent some tragedies like this one. If you would like to get in touch with me and express your concerns in person, please ask Kim Stagliano or John Stone for my email address. I hope to hear from you.
Posted by: Dan E. Burns | March 26, 2013 at 02:26 PM
Dear author, im very touched that this story has moved you, but did you ever think about not going to the extent you have to make sure everybody reads this? this is not your story or business to broadcast allover the internet, what if this family did not want all of this out there like that? I can guarantee that they didn't I know this because I am someone in his family, and shame on you!!
Posted by: natalie3321 | March 26, 2013 at 10:54 AM
Where did HoxtonPaul pick up vaccines from this article?
I read it & saw only criminal negligence on the part of the medical professionals who had the ability to intervene & remained professionally indifferent ("Leave me alone, I'm too busy to be bothered. Won't quit? Ok, fine - Here, have some pills, pay me, & go away")
At this point, every doctor treating patients with autism should know that they do not metabolize drugs "normally" & such meds need to be given with great care. Those that are bothering to learn about this condition, anyway...
Posted by: Grace | October 09, 2010 at 02:34 PM
The funny thing is, I really hope Paul is right; I really hope that autism is proven to be a genetic disease, and that I'm just a super high function autistic that passed the disease on to my son. I really hope that is that case, because the alternative is that, we are unknowingly poisoning our kids, and the government and pharmaceutical industry is complicit. I mean, that's scary; that's like something out of the "X-files". I fear it's the case, but I really hope it's not.
Posted by: Rob Smith | October 08, 2010 at 06:27 PM
Well Hoxton Paul, they put it up. What does it show? Ignorance in the cruelest light. How on such a tragic story could you post such nonsense? The only agenda here is to show there are many sides to the autism epidemic that are not shown nor talked about. They are the most uncomfortable of subjects with heartbreaking outcomes. You should really think about what you have written and how it will compound the devastation that this family is already going through. Shame on you, shame on all of the Doctors and the hospital involved in contributing to this outcome by ignoring the cries for help.
I'm so sorry for Adam, his father, his Grandmother and I ache for how terribly the system failed them.
Posted by: Allison | October 08, 2010 at 12:12 PM
I am very well aware of your attitude. I have put up with it for thirty years.
God asked Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?"
So in that same spirit I ask you:
Where were you when I watched my son react to his first DPT shot with a high fever and heart murmur. Where were you when I watched my son receive his second DPT shot by spiking a high fever, and passing out. Where were you when I watched my son react to his third DPT shot by having a stroke?
You say it is genetic when our very Congress in a Congressional hearing says it is environmental.
You say it is genetic when the intergency for autism within the National Institute of Health says it is environmental!
Where you there when God laid the foundations of the earth? You must of been because you seem to know what causes autism!
Posted by: Benedetta | October 08, 2010 at 11:21 AM
"Sweet, gentle Adam, for the first time in his life, had turned violent."
I feel so terribly sad for Adam, his father, and his entire family. And this could happen to any of us.
Posted by: Autism Grandma | October 08, 2010 at 10:53 AM
HoxtonPaul - here's your moment in the sun... KIM
Posted by: Managing Editor | October 08, 2010 at 08:13 AM
As usual with Age of Autism, you only print the blogs that go along with your agenda.
Actually, reality is rarely as black and white as everything you put on here. There could be a whole different story here.
When the epidemics with unvacinated children start to claim little lives, and it is proved that family members passed on Autism and never looked like they had it due to their functionality being so high, this site will probably implode.
My point is that you have not and will not believe any of that. This tragedy has been hijacked to suit the very, very specific agenda of Age of Autism. All of you have very closed, narrow minds which will only tolerate a few specific beliefs, and no more. This in itself, defines just how accurate your beliefs really are.
You wont put this up of course. But you did have to read it, didn't you?
Posted by: Hoxtonpaul | October 08, 2010 at 08:02 AM
This is horrific. It saddens my heart and frightens me terribly. My children are both autistic, and still pretty young, 9 and 8. I am terrified of the hormones during puberty, which is already started for them both, for some odd reason. My son is a gentle person, but has been hitting me lately, he's 9 and already 5'1" & 120 lbs. We believe he will be well over 6 feet tall, before he quits growing. Lord help all the parents and children who walk this road.
Posted by: Valrie | October 07, 2010 at 08:08 PM
This story is truly horrifying and so terribly sad. This young man needed help so badly and so urgently, yet the doctor wouldn't return phone calls in a timely fashion? I hope Adam's doctor is sent a copy of this article in memory of David. David deserves at least that much. RIP, David.
Posted by: Not an MD | October 07, 2010 at 12:47 PM
I hear stories like this and it scares and saddens me. There was a time in my life due to a unhealthy mixture of AS and PTSD that I myself was homicidal. The only thing that kept me from acting was fear of jail!!
What stops those with more severe autism in the same position I was?! Certainly not medication! Going on zoloft turned me into an unemotiona zombie and a near sociopath!!
Posted by: Theodora Trudorn | October 07, 2010 at 11:07 AM
"The possibility of a brain injury." Huh? Clearly, this man's brain is quite injured. People with properly functioning brains don't have autism and don't commit murder.
I took an Ambien one time and dreamed I was on fire and cats were scratching me. Never again will I ever take a pharma drug.
Posted by: Mary | October 07, 2010 at 11:01 AM
Does the grocery store Adam worked in offer the flu shot? Were they offering it in August?
What about his doctors at the ER. Did they 'catch him up' on any vaccines there? They love to do that.
Posted by: HFAmomto3HFAgirls | October 07, 2010 at 10:45 AM
I have plenty to say about this story!
The main thing is "NOT SLEEPING NEEDS TO BE TREATED!"
If Barbarba was exhausted what about Adam?
Our problems is as normal people we think well if they can't sleep it just means that they aren't sleepy!
Not sleeping will put you in a psychotic state.
Just because you have high functioning autism does not mean you can not have bipolar too.
As a matter of fact I think the two are very much related.
I have a son that has autism. His mood has always been good, except when we put him on the seizure medicine zonnagram. He was horrible, irrtiable and Mean. If I said one word to him and he would carry on forever. He thought that our new house must be built right on top of an Indian burial ground becaue he felt so forlorn. Fortunally the too of us have a very close relationship and he comunicates with me - but what happens to those young adults that can not??? He told me that if he had to feel this way all his life it was going to be hard. I toook him off that seizure medicine that very day - left a message at the neurologist office that said we had gone off of it and back on his old dilantin seizure medicine (we had the advantage of having some of the old stuff still around in the freezer, and it worked pretty good). That got the neurologist's attention right away.
Now my daughter was harder and she did not even have autism. My daughter had Kawasaki's and afterwards she was not the same little girl, going from irritable, and depressed to the life of the party. She was bipolar but I did not know it.
At 28 years old after becoming a nurse, and after taking the required Hep B shots her Sed rates rose again - lower than when she had Kawaski's but still way above normal. She became ill again, stiff in her joints and muscles. Then after a flu shot - things began to happen. She started going into manias and staying. I just thought she had mellowed (I am an idiot) - when they are in manias - they can not sleep, high energy!- but she never came down from that high. On top of that her x doctor thought it was depression the reason for her not sleeping well, and upped her protzac dose, and continued her ambien. The worse thing for a mania phase of bipolar.
She came home from work one evening and I heard her banging around up in her roommmmmm. Her brother at 4 o'clock in the morning came down to get me and told me that something was wrong with his sister - that she was in his room on his couch. I went up there and talked with her for the rest of the night. She told me then she thought she was bipolar. By morning she seemed to be fine. I thought well she has taken toooo much ambien something she depends on to sleep. Really we let things go too much because we all do not have a clue of what to do. First aid for cuts we may know but what in the heck is first aid for something like this????
I let it go. It got worse the next night she began operating on herself.
I took her to the local hospital. They put us in a hosptial room and I was suppose to watch her. No meds, and they released us the next day - with nothing. I guess they were thinking about detox???? She still had not slept. How long does a human being live without sleep???? I know how I feel with lack of sleep for just one night. Isn't that how they torture prisoners of war and not lay a hand on them???? I was told later- by her doctor-(the one that replaced her X doctor) up in a bigger city of Richmond that we should have admitted her to the emergency room of Good Samaritian up in Lexington.
Lexington has 10 if not more hosptials in that city!!!!
Do any of you know what hosptial's emergency room you are suppose to go too for this type of emergency??? I suggest you ask around before you have an emergency.
My daughter after she became better - she is a psych nurse - I supppose it is true that those sick gravatate toward this carreer hoping for answers to their own problems - said that the treatment for someone that is psychotic, someone that has "NOT SLEPT" is to give them high powered ddrugs in shot form to make them sleep because that is an emergency!!!!
After the emergency is over - they have slept - then you have the leisure of deciding what is the next step in treatment - be it get off protzac, or ambien or get on a special diet, or more different drugs. They have my daughter on Lamicatal. That is a seizure medicine. Most bipolar is treated with seizure medicines. Which makes me think that the manias and not sleeping could be something of a seizrue - or the psychotic phase is not some sort of seizure.
Walking around, doing things you are not aware, talking and making sense but not really there - is spooky too. They threw me out of the emergency room at our local hospital. I left the room knowing that the nurses thought they were talking to a rational humanbeing that was all there - well she wasn't.
I wish had been aware of this - I had not a clue. Your mind is yours - I thought???
Posted by: Benedetta | October 07, 2010 at 10:37 AM