Rise in cases of autism means extra effort should be put into providing support and care

Recent tragic case of a man who killed his violent autistic son highlights the urgent need to improve help for those with the condition and their families

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 August, 2016, 4:22am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 2016, 4:22am

Family murder is, thankfully, not a common phenomenon in Hong Kong. But occasional incidents suggest something went wrong in the family – and in some cases society as a whole. Sorrow and sympathy aside, there is a need to reflect on what more can be done to minimise the occurrence of such tragedies.

The latest case that caught public attention was the trial of a 61-year-old man, who killed his violence-prone autistic son two years ago in order to protect the rest of the family. He said he was getting old and was worried that he might not be able to intervene when the 15-year-old attacked the mother and the younger brother again. He slashed the boy about 100 times while he was asleep,and was prepared to take his own life afterwards, the court heard.

Man, 61, kills autistic teenage son because he felt burden was ‘tough for the whole family’

Whether the father is a monster or a martyr for the family is a matter of personal view. Although he was said to have been suffering from severe depression when the crime happened, it was no excuse for taking his son’s life. In handing down a four-year jail term for manslaughter, the judge considered the killing as at “the lower end of the scale”, adding that the tragedy was already a lifelong punishment for the father. The empathy was also reflected in the 700-odd mitigation letters from autism concern groups and families with children in the victim’s school.

Due to growing public awareness of the syndrome, the autistic population has been rising. In 2010, some 1,225 toddlers assessed by the Child Assessment Service were diagnosed with the problem. The number of autistic students is expected to reach 10,000 by 2017 -18.

Parents of autistic kids need support too as more cases may be expected

This has raised concerns whether patients and their carers have sufficient access to services they need. The father was said to be under stress after giving up his job to look after the sons while his wife worked. It has to be asked whether the tragedy could have been prevented had there been intervention from the government or support groups. The case is a sad reminder of the need for better efforts to help autistic people and their families.