Author Slain by Her Own Son

Posted by Anneli Rufus at 1:04 pm, Wednesday, February 11, 2009

steuernagelAn author who advocated fiercely on behalf of autistic children has been murdered by her autistic son. Kent State political science/women’s studies professor Gertrude Steuernagel, the 60-year-old author of Political Philosophy as Therapy: Marcuse Reconsidered and coauthor of Foundations for a Feminist Restructuring of the Academic Disciplines, died last Friday in an Ohio hospital from injuries sustained in the January 29 beating. Her son Sky Walker, 18, is being held on $2 million bond, charged with murder and assaulting a police officer. Steuernagel wrote op-eds for the campus newspaper, the Daily Kent Stater, about life with an autistic child. “Try spending an evening sitting in a closet with your back to the door trying to hold it shut while your child kicks it in,” she wrote in one column. ”Sky, as he always does, showed me the way,” she wrote in another. “Even on the worst of days, Sky would find something to enjoy, even if it lasted less than 30 seconds … So I started to look for my joy.” In a post titled “My Son’s Trail of Sparkles” at an autism forum two years ago, Steuernagel wrote: “His verbal abilities are limited. I have never had a conversation with my son. … Sky had difficulties in preschool with scissors. He did not have the fine motor coordination or motor planning skills he needed to cut. … Today Sky is 16 and … has many rituals, one of which is cutting paper into tiny pieces. He particularly likes to cut cellophane fruit bar wrappers into confetti sized pieces. The fruit bar must be strawberry. My nightly ritual is to get down on my hands and knees and pick the sticky confetti off the hardwood floors in the kitchen and family room. I always miss pieces and these are tracked on the soles of our feet or shoes throughout the house. One night I was frustrated and angry with the universe. Why, I thought, does he do this? He doesn’t even eat the fruit bar. Then I thought back to the preschool days, the days when Sky did not ‘scissor.’ I started to smile. The smile turned into a laugh, the laugh into a guffaw. My son the cutup had once again proven to be my best teacher. Try your best; do what you can; the universe will come to you. … He is my dance partner and I his. Sometimes we step on each other’s toes and sometimes we navigate with great grace. I’ve learned when to lead and when to follow. I know Sky will continue to leave a trail for me, a trail of sparkles.”

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