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The Vulnerable And The Vile: Two Tragic Stories On Children With Autism

AntNat2013By Natalie Palumbo

I’m 19 years old, a freshman at Ringling College of Art & Design, and the only sibling to an older brother with low-verbal autism. Over my spring break, I came across two distressing articles one right after the other. Both outlined tragedies involving a child with autism, and both involved people acting in horrific ways towards these children. Disturbing to me as well was the locations where these incidents took place. Both are places I have frequented at one time or another.

According to the Herald-Tribune, a Sarasota County newspaper in Florida, “Court documents detailed how Melissa was ostracized from her half-siblings and allegedly abused. She was deprived of food and removed from Oak Park School. To control her, the Stoddards allegedly tied her to a board and duct-taped her mouth to keep from crying out. Melissa, who had autism, and was known for her tantrums, died Dec. 17, 2012.”

When I first came across this article, I was struck by the fact that it happened in Sarasota County close to where I attend college. This is a sobering reminder of why I will need to protect my brother in the future. Anthony could never imagine such cruelty, and I could never explain it to him.

If we are to understand the broad scope of individuals on the autism spectrum, we have to be made aware of all the possible outcomes, and not just an optimistic few. If autism is portrayed as a novelty for inspiration, then the public will believe that autism is nothing to worry about. Who wouldn’t want an exceptional child?

While I was still sick over the brutal details of Melissa Stoddard’s tortured life and death, another horrifying article surfaced from WJLA ABC 7 by Jay Korff. The headline read, “Two Maryland Teens Admit to Assaulting Boy with Autism”, and this excerpt stated the following:

“MECHANICSVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - St. Mary’s County authorities allege that 17-year-old Lauren Bush and another 15-year-old unnamed female – both students at Chopticon High School – videotaped multiple assaults they unleashed on a 16-year-old boy with autism.

Sheriff Tim Cameron says the allegations leveled against these girls are among the most disturbing he has dealt with in his career. He says that several times between December and February, the suspects preyed on the victim – assaulting him with a knife, kicking him in the groin, dragging him by the hair, coercing him to engage in a sex act too disturbing to broadcast, and even forcing him to walk on a partially frozen pond.”

The amount of disgust I felt reading about Lauren Bush and her friend is indescribable. I simply can’t conceive of such cruelty. How could anyone actually believe this behavior is acceptable? If you are capable of doing this to another person, let alone someone with autism, you have NO redeeming qualities. I was more irate knowing this abuse went on for months. Worse yet, reports said they KNEW him.

I agonize at the thought that this boy with autism could not distinguish between cruelty and friendship. More disturbing is the allegation that they coerced him into engaging in sex acts while they filmed him. One can only assume they sought to further humiliate him for their entertainment. I will never comprehend the complete lack of humanity demonstrated here. Now this boy will forever suffer the scars of their brutality in addition to his autism.

As horrible as these stories are, I believe these tragedies need more focus nationally. Most of the autism stories I see are the feel-good stories of children at the high end of the spectrum that demonstrate exceptional talent. I’ve heard the argument before. The national news promotes feel-good stories so people that donate money will feel their dollars make a difference. From my sibling perspective, I find this argument weak and frustrating. How can public concern be generated if the children presented are mostly achieving in these stories? These stories don’t communicate any sense of urgency. Autism families are struggling with the challenges of this condition, the numbers are growing, and the children are growing, too. I knew many people that thought of autism only as a verbal condition. They questioned, if not criticized, my concern for my brother. They did not know there was low-verbal autism, let alone non-verbal. They would stare at me blankly when I explained Anthony had no conversational skills, and was very echolalic with OCD.

Growing up, I endured several thoughtless people who mocked Anthony and me. Anthony’s autism acts as a shield. He is blissfully unaware when people are cruelly mocking us. However, I am always aware. Individuals so open with their thoughtless behavior make it easy for me to discern who to associate with, and who to avoid.  I GET it. We’re not like you. I would never want to ACT like you, or be friends with anyone who acts like you. I can see no value in someone capable of treating anyone so abysmally.

The wave is crashing. We don’t need JUST awareness of autism anymore. We need awareness of the dangers surrounding people with autism. We need to prevent these unspeakable cruelties from happening to our loved ones.

Natalie Palumbo is Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.


Mia More

Would you be willing to sign and/or share a petition that I started asking the courts to not be lenient on Lauren Bush and her accomplice (the girls who abused that boy)?

Truth is hard to come by

The incident with the teenage girls bullying the boy with autism is extremely troubling. I do have to wonder though if the teenage girls may also be victims (of a different sort) of vaccines/mercury poisoning. The great spectrum of struggles faced by different kids diagnosed on the spectrum suggests that the consequences of encephalopathy and/or mercury exposure can be extremely variable depending presumably on multiple coincident factors--genetics, age of exposure, coincident exposures, body toxin load, tylenol use, nutrition, etc. etc. These girls' lack of empathy for another person is chilling. But what caused that? Do we really want to blame the girls' parents? Something is screwing up a lot of kids' brains. I think empathy, though it is an emotion, must be a brain function or a hormonal function. And we know that mercury and vaccines can screw up both. I think it is time to seriously consider that some "evil" may be a consequence of toxicity.


Natalie-your brother is very fortunate to have a wise and wonderful sister like you. I have one son with autism and one who is unaffected and totally devoted to his brother, just as you are. God Bless and keep writing for Age of Autism.

Dawn Keck

What a well written and spot on article that I cannot thank you enough for. I am so impressed that you wrote it a sibling not a parent showing how much this really does effect the family as a whole. I posted it on my FB Timeline to try and help address the need for attention that we need to protect these individuals from these vial acts and society who act inhumane in their daily behavior towards us and our loved ones.
Thank You
Dawn & Danny


Unbelievable tragedy! I cannot say what I think about these stories. As to Natalie Palumbo, I am thouroughly impressed at her strength of character to be able to consisely relay her thoughts. I don't think I would be so calm.


Natalie, we are so lucky to have you here!


Excellent piece of heart-felt writing, Natalie. I've always felt that "Autism The Musical" should be required viewing. I wonder if HBO would ever consider free access to it on YouTube as a public service - at least during autism awareness month.

Jeannette Bishop

Thank you for putting well into words something so difficult to convey.

Laura Hayes

Thank you, Natalie, for bringing these disturbing atrocities to our attention so that each of us can do our best to get the word out in an effort to protect our affected loved ones and all who have an ASD (or any disability for that matter). May earthly justice be delivered swiftly to the abusers, and may effective protective measures be put in place immediately for this teenage boy.

Your articles are always an inspiration to do something to improve the situation for those with "autism", their families, and in reality, for all children and their families. Once again, your article will hopefully continue to urge many of us on in our efforts to try to wake this country up to the fact that the health, development, and well-being of ALL of our children is being compromised every minute of every day via vaccines, pesticides, GMOs, toxic cleaners, everyday chemical use, fluoridated water, and more.

You write with such wisdom and clarity for one so young. Thank you for continuing to put your thoughts into words and action. You are a true gem.

Vicki Hill

Good article, Natalie. The only thing I would add is that some people with "high-functioning" autism also have difficulty telling the difference between cruelty and friendship. They are very vulnerable to scammers and others who would take advantage of their naivete. For example, you may have read the recent story of one who was 'busted' for selling drugs - by an undercover policeman who befriended the lonely boy in a public high school and berated him about 'needing' a drug until the boy finally researched how to buy it and provided it to him in an effort to keep his 'friend'.

Not all with high-functioning autism will admit to being vulnerable. Not all are aware of just how vulnerable they may be. But the issue of vulnerability certainly applies all along the spectrum.

Louis Conte

Thank you for this and all of the writing you do.

You are absolutely correct about how we are about to fed a month pabulum in April for "Autism Awareness Month" other wise known as "Autism is just another name for one or two quirky people you know but there's no real suffering and vaccines don't cause it month".

And this is profoundly disrespectful to people who are really living with autism in their families who have to scratch and claw for meaningful help, respect and justice.


John Stone

Well said Natalie,

We ought to remember when we "light it up blue" this year, or not, that the whole diversion came via Bernie Marcus, board member emeritus the CDC Foundation:

It is the window dressing which says nothing about the harsh realities of peoples lives or the deliberate dereliction of governments.


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