Taking care of autistic kids challenging, woman testifies

Taking care of autistic kids challenging, woman testifies
Alayna Higdon testified in her own defense Thursday. She appeared cheerful on the stand.

VANCOUVER, Wash. - The woman accused of keeping two autistic kids in what prosecutors describe as a makeshift cage said Thursday that it was challenging taking care of the kids with special needs.

Alayna Higdon is not the biological mother of the boys but lived with their father, John Eckhart, who is also on trial.

Higdon said during her courtroom testimony she helped care for the children but had a newborn baby of her own at the time and was busy with work and school.

Higdon appeared cheerful on the stand, looked at the jury, smiled, giggled and described a fairly happy family that liked to take drives and watch movies.

But she also talked about the challenges for caring for two kids, ages five and seven with special needs. She said the children would eat dangerous things like carpet and run into walls.

She implied she and the boys' biological father, Eckhart, used gates for the kids' own protection.

Before putting up the metal gate, Higdon said they used a type of baby-gate that didn't seem to keep one of the kids in the room at night.

"He would climb out of it at night; he would open the door and climb over the gate, out of the room," she said.

She said she knew the boy was getting out at night because of her "pretty good ears."

She also made reference to her 10-year-old son who testified Wednesday that he often fed the two autistic children. She said he was just a jealous older brother since the two with special needs needed more attention. She said she would have the 10-year-old help out to feel more involved.

Higdon's testimony is not over. She'll take the stand again Friday morning.

So far, Eckhart has not testified.