Alex was a 14 year old non-verbal autistic boy who never had a chance to live. Deprived of proper medical care and then murdered by his own mother, his short life was a tragedy. Ironically, the well-intentioned autism activists did all in their power to help Alex in the best way they knew how. They quite correctly protested against the failure to provide Alex with appropriate medical care for his gastro-intestinal problems and against the decision to place him in restraints in a psychiatric ward while he was in a hospital. And they actually succeeded in their goal of removing him from this hospital that failed to properly care for him.
But they never imagined in their worst nightmares that sending him back to his mother would end up killing him. They counted on his mother to protect and care for him because the vast majority of mothers have loving instincts. And as mothers of autistic children themselves, they could not understand that a tiny minority of mothers exhibit murderous instincts toward their own children. The blame for this tragedy ultimately lies with the mother who made this barbaric choice.
I did a brief investigation into the cases of mothers murdering autistic children and found it was not an uncommon phenomenon. A quick Google search uncovered the murders of at least 5 autistic children by 4 mothers in 2010 alone in the USA. In addition, at least two autistic children were murdered by their mothers in 2011, including one in the UK and one in the USA. In 2012, two autistic children were murdered by their mothers in the USA. The victims came from all walks of life, races, and social classes. They included:
- Kenneth Holmes, 12, of the Bronx, an African-American boy, whose mother killed herself.
- Jude Tzekov, 8, son of a Manhattan heiress
- Ben Barnhard, 13, son of a psychiatrist who also killed herself
- George Hodgkins, 22, of the USA
- Glen Freaney, 14, of the UK
- Zain and Faryaal Akhter, 5, and 2, Pakistani-Americans from Texas
- Ajit Kaur-Singh, 12, of the UK
- Daniel Corby, 4, of the USA
The victims were often very young and totally defenseless children, 4 of them being under 10 years old. Daniel Corby was just 4 years old. Zain and Faryaal Akhter were just 5 and 2 years old. Jude Tzekov was just 8 years old. The focus of our mourning needs to be on the innocent children and not on the mothers who chose to murder them. The children were the most severely disabled autistic kids - often non-verbal, unable to care for themselves, completely dependent upon their parents and caregivers for basic needs such as eating, bathing, and dressing.
In many cases the murdering mothers either killed themselves as well or tried to kill themselves, reflecting a high level of despair about their situations. The alleged reasons for the murders ranged from frustration about school placements to inability to find housing for children after a pending divorce to fear that social services would take a child away from its mother.
The social service agencies were involved in at least two of the cases, those of Ajit Kaur-Singh, 12, and Zain and Faryaal Akhter, 5, and 2. The social service agency in the UK that was responsible for Ajit Kaur-Singh's welfare understood that his mother was not capable of taking care of him and threatened to remove him from her care. Child Protective Services in Texas investigated the Akhter family for leaving Zain at home alone in 2009 while rushing Faryaal to the hospital for a respiratory infection.
Part of the solution to this problem involves providing additional support, especially respite care to mothers and families who feel overwhelmed by the responsibility to provide round-the-clock care for their severely autistic and dependent children. These mothers are genuinely and understandably overwhelmed, and they need emotional and practical support in caring for their children. They also are in vital need of regular respite services which can allow them to take an occasional break from the constant responsibility of caring for their children.
But part of the solution is for social service agencies to do a better job of investigating and protecting vulnerable autistic children who are not able to care for themselves. Social service agencies need better training to help them understand the demands that these mothers face and to detect the early warning signs that these mothers are not capable of providing proper care for their children. The lives of Ajit Kaur-Singh and Zain and Faryaal Akhter might have been saved if they had been removed from the home and placed in the care of loving foster and adoptive families that are willing to take on the responsibility of raising special needs children.
The broader autism community needs to understand that the responsibility for protecting autistic children lies not only with their parents but with the whole autism world and ultimately the entire society. Severely autistic children are extremely vulnerable and require a higher level of protection and support than other children. More programs need to be available to protect autistic children whose parents are incapable of taking care of them. Unfortunately even the best programs and services cannot save every autistic child, but these children are in dire need of extra help from the autism community and the broader society.
In addition, I support the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network's call for the murderers of Alex Spourdalakis to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This atrocity is a hate crime and needs to be treated as such. According to the press release, his mother and killer refused offered services from the Illinois Department of Children and Families prior to committing this atrocity. Her murderous act was a hate crime against a disabled person and must be punished severely.