There’s Something Wrong with the Way We Talk About Parents Who Murder Their Autistic KidsA. Stout
Little London was a sweet little boy who loved fuzzy stuffed animals. He was just six years old when his mother threw him off a bridge to his death.
Alex Spourdalakis was also killed by his mother and godmother. They first tried to poison him with sleeping pills, but when that didn’t work, his mother grabbed a knife and stabbed the boy in the chest four times and slit his wrist. He was a smart 14-year-old who loved balloons and the color yellow.
In an elaborate murder-suicide, an entire family of four was killed through airborne gas. One of the children, Martin, was 10 years old. The daughter, Elisa, was age 11.
What did all of these children have in common? They were all on the autism spectrum.
It is an abhorrent tragedy that stories like these happen—even more so that they are as common as they are. Some statistics estimate that a child, teen, or adult with a disability is killed by a caregiver at least once per week.
The Difference Between Neurotypical and Neurodivergent Victims
When children are killed by parents or caregivers, society’s response is visceral. The murderer needs to be locked up for life, they say. The actions were utterly disgusting, and the killer needs to pay the price for what they did. Society is unequivocally hostile toward the murderer.
However, society’s views often shift a little when autism or disability comes into the picture. The response of news reporters, judicial bodies, and the general public is sympathy toward the person who committed the crime. The narrative changes from “cold-blooded murderer” to “loving parent who suffered and snapped under the burden of caregiving” or sometimes even “doting caregiver who killed because the other options were too unbearable.” The term “mercy killing” is, surprisingly, commonly used. Those who are convicted often face less severe sentences.
And strangely enough, the victim’s narrative tends to be the unflattering one. They were too much to handle, requiring 24/7 care. They were a burden on their families. They were cognitively impaired. They were violent. They had to be restrained at times.
The murder of an autistic person is still seen as a tragedy, of course. Society will never celebrate the death of an innocent person. But the act of killing them is somewhat dismissed—not seen as right, necessarily, but perhaps more permissible than in other situations. Conversations about the desperate need for disability support arise, and the public agrees not to judge the murderer because they haven’t been in their shoes.
This mindset of ours needs to change.
It’s Not More Permissible
Living with autism can be challenging—there is no doubt about that.
However, that will never be an excuse to take someone’s life. And suggesting that it could be understandable? Well, I think The Autistic Self Advocacy Network said it best:
“When we say every parent of a disabled child has had moments like this or walk a mile in our shoes or the system failed everyone or but you have to understand how hard it is, we are excusing a parent murdering their child. It does not matter how many times we say not that I would ever condone this: if we attempt to make a parent murdering their child understandable, if we ever attempt to position it as a comprehensible or inevitable or normal thing, if we take and normalize the perspective and the side of abusers and murderers, we are minimizing and excusing this act. Doing so puts the lives of disabled people everywhere in danger.”
The caregivers who murdered their autistic children did something unequivocally wrong. Inexcusably wrong.
Those kids were people. They had souls and hearts that thrummed with life. They smiled and laughed. They had joy and likes and dislikes. They should have had futures. They deserved to live their lives and enjoy all of the world’s beauty.
It is a tragedy that these kids are no longer with us. And it is deplorable that this is because the people they trusted to care for them murdered them.
There is no moral gray here. Murder of an innocent person—regardless of their condition—is wrong.