Parents of autistic children explain struggle, despair



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Posted on July 21, 2010 at 9:58 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 21 at 11:09 PM

DALLAS — Saiqa Akhter, 30, wore handcuffs and a green jumpsuit and said nothing as deputies escorted her to Dallas County jail just before 7 p.m. Wednesday.

She has already been charged in the strangulation of her son, Zain, 5. Charges are pending in the strangulation of her daughter, Faryaal, 3.

Hours before she was booked into jail, the 911 call Akhter made on Monday evening was released, revealing her confession.

"They are autistic," she told an operator. "Both are autistic... I don't want my kids to be like that. I want normal kids."

"My heart just kind of goes into my knees," said Nagla Moussa, president of the National Autism Association of North Texas.

It's a network of parents struggling to raise children with the disorder.

"When you have a child with autism, you're constantly thinking: 'What's going to happen to this child when I'm no longer around? Who will be taking care of him or her?'" Moussa said.

Akhter called 911 from her Irving apartment Monday and calmly told an operator she used a wire to strangle her six-year-old son and three-year-old daughter.

But she also revealed what else she had done to them minutes earlier.

"First I tried to kill them with bathroom cleaner," Akhter said in the 911 call. "I put in their mouth, but they don't drink it. I want them to drink it. They don't drink it, so there's a wire there, so I just grabbed their neck and then I tried so many times, and then they're no more."

Parents of autistic children think Akhter lost hope, and likely felt isolated and perhaps ostracized.

Mara LaViola should know. Her son, Zach, suffers from autism.

"I wish I could convey to you what it is like to raise a child on the spectrum who is escaping the house," LaViola said. "You find them on top of your kitchen cabinets. Breaking things. Throwing things. Most of the time it's because they're trying to communicate and they're not able to."

What's still unclear is whether Akhter reached out —  and why no one intervened.

Parents of autistic children criticize Texas, saying it ranks 49th in services available to the disabled, according to a recent survey by the United Cerebral Palsy organization.

Parents hope this is an issue that gets more attention in light of such a tragedy.