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Benzie County Mom Goes Public With Her Struggle To Help A Violent Daughter

Kelli Stapleton in the hospital after an attack by her daughter. The photo was originally posted to her blog.
The Status Woe
Kelli Stapleton in the hospital after an attack by her daughter. The photo was originally posted to her blog.


This week, a mother in Benzie County wrote a blog post about the abuse she suffers at the hands of her autistic daughter. The 13-year-old is prone to violence. She’s put her mom in the hospital. And as she grows, she grows harder to restrain.

The family accumulated massive debt to pay for early interventions. For the next leg of her care, the community is chipping in.

This is a well-known Benzie County family. Dad is Matt Stapleton, the principle at Frankfort-Elberta High School, also the football coach and a junior varsity basketball coach. He graduated from rival Benzie Central.

The family lives in Elberta, where Kelli stays home caring for her and Matt’s three children.

Living In Fear
Their middle child is away just now, downstate in residential treatment. Her mom is conflicted. She wants her little girl home, but she’s also scared. Kelli Stapleton started blogging about her daughter’s autism late last year.

“I guess what I wanted to do, really, was just leave witnesses because Isabelle is very violent,” she says. “She’s coming home next week and I have no reason to believe that I will survive the next bout of aggression from her.”

Kelli’s most recent blog post, dated Tuesday, shows a photo taken after a particularly brutal attack from her daughter that left her unconscious and put her in the hospital with a closed-head injury. There’s also a video of a milder assault Kelli once recorded on her cell phone.

Treatment Hard To Find, Expensive
“We are a good family. We did everything that we could, everything we could think of to get help for her,” Kelli tells IPR. “If I’m not there to speak anymore, people need to know that we did go to CMH for help. We did try to call people…”

Full treatment in the residential program for Issy would be expected to take between three and eight months, at a cost of $760 dollars every day. Insurance originally paid for 30 days.

She’s responding to treatment, according to her mother, but the aggression is getting worse before it gets better. That reaction is also expected, Kelli Stapleton says.

Most autistic children are not aggressive like this, but, in Issy’s case, her violent ways are probably compounded by a lack of impulse control and difficulty understanding consequences. The aggression happens when Issy doesn’t get her way, when she’s told no. It happens multiple times daily.

Usually Issy’s mom bears the brunt of the beatings, but lately Kelli says Matt gets them too. Occasionally Issy has even gone after her younger sister, 12-year-old Ainsley. Ainsley has learned how to back quietly into a closet, or to roll under a bed and out of reach.

Community Rallies Support
As Matt Stapleton’s basketball team warms up for a game against rival Benzie Central, people in the stands know the coach’s story. Some say they’ve already donated to a campaign launched this week by The Elberta Alert, the local volunteer-run newspaper.

Since midday Tuesday, more than $10,000 dollars has been raised online, according to the newspaper’s editor.

That doesn’t surprise community member Deborah Ryan. She’s a long-time friend of the family. She says the Stapletons are well respected throughout the county, and she says, though their autistic daughter has significant challenges, the little girl can also be a delight.

“Once she meets you, if she knows your name, she would never forget it. Never ever. I’m sure that, by the time it’s said and done there will be enough money for her to stay as long as she needs. I hope,” Ryan says.

But the care is enormously expensive. Even $10,000 dollars pays for less than two weeks for Issy, and she may really need up to eight months in residential treatment.

Kelli Stapleton says her husband has a good job, good insurance through the school system and a middle class income in a working-class county. They shouldn’t have to ask their neighbors for money, she says. Earlier this week, Kelli Stapleton thought a community fundraiser would be futile. But the thousands raised has overwhelmed the Stapletons.

“I don’t know what to say. Thank you is not enough,” she says.

Donations have even come from out of state, and more good news came Wednesday afternoon. The insurance company will also extend Issy’s care. She won’t come home next week as originally thought. Between insurance and donations, her care can already be extended into mid-March.