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Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?
Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Her Brain Needs All the Stimulation It Can Get": The Death of Kianna Rudesill

In Illinois, a trial for murder is presently underway. Heather Lamie is accused of having caused the death in 2011 of her 4-year-old foster daughter, Kianna Rudesill (see
and Kianna died of head injuries that according to medical experts could not have been self-inflicted.

It appears that the defense will call as an expert witness the pediatric forensic pathologist Janice Ophoven. Ophoven has become known for her contributions to the defense of parents accused of killing children. Her testimony shown at shows her arguments against a conclusion that a parent had nonaccidentally killed a child. She gave similar arguments in the Yhip case in California and the Trevor Smith case in Ontario, both to be found through Google. (The Yhip case is of particular interest if you want to look at this background.)

Until recently, prosecutors and forensic examiners investigating the causes of a child’s death had to work by reverse inference based on bruises and other evidence, to consider how injuries might have come about and what causes were most likely. The actual events leading up to the death, in the previous days and hours, were known only to the accused--  if indeed to them. But today there is a new source of information: the text messages sent and received by the accused during the run-up to the time of death. These may be of much importance in establishing what happened, and in the case of Kianna Rudesill’s death, they appear to say much.

Heather Lamie and her husband Joshua texted to each other about Kianna’s condition, expressing no sympathy about an injury the child appeared to have. The texts included the admonition to respond to Kianna’s being “out of control” by a simple expedient: “Beat her ___”.

Sad and telling as these texts may be, they open a number of important questions. Did these people not understand that their texts could be read later? Or, did they think that it was not important to hide what they said, because they believed they were doing the right thing? If they believed they were doing the right thing, why did they think so? Did they, like the adoptive parents implicated in the death of Nathaniel Craver in York, PA in 2009, have contacts with people who would advise them that they must unbendingly assert their authority over a foster child? Were they instructed that the child was intentionally defying them by failing to comply, and that all methods were acceptable in the fight to save her from herself?

I ask these—clearly speculative--  questions because of a specific text sent to her husband by Heather Lamie. Referring to putting Kianna into the shower, she texted: “Yes it is kind of cold but her brain needs as much stimulation as it can get.” This statement has many implications beyond the obvious message of cruelty.

I think it is quite possible that Heather’s treatment of Kianna was based on recommendations made by proponents of Attachment Therapy, either directly or as passed along by would-be helpful friends and neighbors. These recommendations often confuse social stimulation--  much needed by developing babies--  with sensory stimulation, and assume that intense sensory stimulation of all kinds serves to force brain development. Those making the recommendations also propose that all failures of children to satisfy parents’ wishes are results of poor brain development. The “logical” conclusion of these two assumptions is that sensory stimulation causes improved brain development, improved brain development causes compliance with parents’ wishes, and therefore sensory stimulation ranging from doing jumping jacks to cold showers is beneficial. There is certainly no evidence to this effect, although many occupational therapists and special educators persist in practices like skin brushing because of their commitment to the connection between sensory stimulation, brain changes, and improved behavior. (Interestingly, Jessica Beagley, of hot sauce fame, also put her adopted Russian son in a cold shower and videotaped this to send to “Dr. Phil”; she appears to have been surprised that she was charged with child abuse. She claimed that the boy had Reactive Attachment Disorder, suggesting that she might have been influenced by Attachment Therapy beliefs.)

Heather’s and Joshua’s attitudes toward Kianna, as shown in their texts, were also reminiscent of the views of Nancy Thomas, who has become a spokesperson for Foster Cline and others of the authoritarian Attachment Therapy school of thought. Thomas has recommended assuming that children are lying about injuries, or that they have deliberately hurt themselves in order to cause trouble for adult caregivers. When Kianna’s leg was injured at home, her preschool teachers carried her from place to place during the day. Joshua texted about this, ”If it hurts that bad she can go to bed.” Thomas and other Attachment Therapy authors like Keith Reber have attributed illnesses including vomiting to the intentional actions of children, and have argued that showing sympathy to sick or hurt children is simply allowing oneself to be manipulated and thereby making the children’s mental illness worse. The Lamies may or may not have taken this belief straight from Attachment Therapy, but instead may have shared it as part of the “old-fashioned” way of dealing with children  recounted in many memoirs, especially of those who grew up in the Middle West or West of the United States. Nevertheless, the possible association of their actions with Attachment Therapy needs to be explored, and I hope the prosecutors will realize this.

And what if the Lamies’ actions toward  Kianna did indeed come from a caseworker or therapist adherent of Attachment Therapy? The Lamies will have to take their own responsibility for their actions, but their advisor (if there was one) will not, unless a malpractice complaint is brought, and that is highly unlikely until NASW and other professional organizations face up to their obligations in matters of this kind.

Oct. 7, 2014: Heather Lamie has been convicted on two counts. No caseworker or therapist was charged.


1 comment:

  1. Umm the medical evidence is out and it's clear Heather Lamier killed a 4 year old little girl. Disgusting.