NEW YORK — A few days ago, a 12-year-old boy with autism was found hanging from a tree outside his home.
His family and friends had no idea what happened.
The child had been locked in a closet for a few days, and authorities say his condition was deteriorating.
They didn’t know what to do.
So they took him into their homes.
The next morning, the boy’s mother found him dead.
The coroner found that he had died from hanging, the New York Times reports.
The case has sparked a national debate about the use of mental health as a justification for neglecting the mentally ill.
There is no scientific consensus on how to handle children who are locked in closets or otherwise unable to communicate, according to a report released Wednesday by the nonprofit Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
But the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders makes no mention of mental illness.
So the question is, should we take children who cannot communicate seriously?
“If we treat them with neglect and disregard, and the only thing we’re doing is putting them in a box, then what is the purpose?” said Dr. Peter Seidman, director of the National Center for Children with Disabilities.
He said that for the mentally handicapped, “the only thing that is not safe is the box.”
Children with autism have problems with social communication and learning.
In some cases, they may not understand words, such as the word “hello,” or the meaning of a word, such a “happy” or “happy birthday.”
Many have trouble speaking, Seidmann said.
And some with autism may have difficulty reading or writing.
It’s important for families to understand the child’s needs, not to try to help them, he said.
“We have a lot of things that can cause these children to suffer,” he said, adding that many parents who don’t understand their children’s needs are doing the right thing.
The APA report also said there are a lot more children with autism in the United States today than at any time in the past 25 years.
Experts say the number of children with the condition has increased steadily over the last two decades.
And many experts, including autism advocates, say the rate of diagnoses has increased by about half in the last 10 years.
“It’s a very, very challenging time for families,” Seidham said.
The family in the Philadelphia case is one of many that has struggled to understand what is going on with their son.
His mother, Sharon, has spent most of the last six years trying to raise her son, who has autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
She has been working with his father, Paul, to help him understand what he needs to do to become normal.
“There’s nothing we can do,” Sharon said.
She also worries about how to get her son to the doctor if his condition deteriorates.
“The last thing I want to do is put him in a room alone with a death sentence,” she said.
Paul Seideman, the father of the boy who hanged himself, has said that he would like to talk to his son about how he feels about being locked in the closet.
He has tried to do that, but has not been able to.
His parents also don’t know how to reach his father.
“My wife has a hard time getting him to open up to her,” Sharon Seidmansaid.
“He’s not open to anything.”
She says she’s frustrated by the lack of help and support her son needs.
“I think that the problem is with us,” she added.
“What’s the point of trying to help somebody when they’re not doing anything?”
“I feel like the only solution is to put a blanket over his head,” Sharon added.
But Seidmans family isn’t alone in thinking the solution is simple.
Children with mental illness have been neglected in the U.S. for decades.
There are over 300,000 children with disabilities living in families that are unable to adequately care for them, according the American Association of Children and Families.
And that number continues to grow.
“When you have a child who is not being taken care of, it’s not just the parents who suffer,” said Michael Tappan, president of the Center for Disability Rights and Social Justice.
The Center’s research shows that in states that adopt the Common Core State Standards, children who have a diagnosis of autism are five times more likely to be placed in homes that lack adequate supervision, or worse, that have a lack of a functioning home life, according.
Children living in homes where they don’t receive adequate supervision are four times more at risk for a range of serious mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and psychosis, Tappann said.
He added that the American Psychological Association also warns that poor supervision and neglect can have long-term negative effects on the mental health of children, including suicide.
In the Philadelphia family, there were signs that things weren’t working