Bioethics Blogs

My Son is Not a "Write-off"

Barbara MacArthur shares her story about parenting her ASD child in the 1970’s. 


When he was a child, Howard, was diagnosed as profoundly autistic and asthmatic: “Just one of those things,” the doctors said. One told me he was “a write-off” and “Stop sacrificing yourself put him in an institution and forget him” 

Howard was a noisy, awkward child. Everything was slow–and fractions. I had to chop up a wooden playpen and nail the bars against the bedroom window because he would climb on the sil and push hard against the glass. Once when I picked him up quickly to save him from danger he head butted me and chipped my two front teeth. At 3 a.m. one morning Howard hit me in the eye with a metal bus to wake me up. I had to go to work with a black eye and a cracked nose. 

I always had to work. My husband never supported us and I did not know where he was. He left unexpectedly when I was five months pregnant. In 1973 we received an official letter to say he had died in Manchester. He had never remarried, but nothing was left except just enough to pay the burial expenses. I had managed to buy an old house with a dodgy roof, no bathroom and an outside toilet. It was all I could afford and it took me ages to get rid of the cockroaches, beetles and mice. I managed to carry out repairs myself until I saved enough to pay for proper repairs.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.