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Mother Kills Autistic Son, May Be Charged With Hate Crime

Mother Kills Autistic Son, May Be Charged With Hate Crime

On June 9, Alex Spourdalakis, an autistic 14-year-old, was found stabbed to death in his bed in the apartment in River Grove, Illinois, where he lived with his mother, Dorothy Spourdalakis. She and Jolanta Skrodzka, Alex’s godmother and caretaker, were found in the same room in a semiconscious state after Minas Spourdalakis, Alex’s father, and another relative called 911 when they were unable to contact Alex’s mother.

Dorothy Spourdalakis and Skrodzka have both been charged with the murder of Alex, who is described as being severely autistic and non-verbal. Authorities have found a three-page letter that describes what ABC news calls “the ordeal of caring for a severely autistic – and sometimes violent – teenager.”

Disability Advocates Press For Federal Hate Crimes Charges

Emphasizing how unnecessary, and tragic, Alex’s death was, Jeff Rosen, chairperson of the National Council on Disability, contends that the killing of Alex occurred because of his disability — because he was autistic — and should be considered a hate crime. As Rosen says in a statement:

“Alex Spourdalakis did not die because of lack of services, or because living with or raising a child with a disability is difficult… No, Alex Spourdalakis was killed; killed by those entrusted to care for and protect him.”

The National Council on Disability advises the President and Congress on disability issues and is joining forces with disability rights advocates from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) to have Spourdalakis and Skrodzka charged with a hate crime. Noting that “many in the media have attempted to excuse Alex’s murder or sympathize with his killers” on the basis of “the challenges of his disability and the need to improve the quality and availability of service-provision,” a statement from ASAN says that:

“In truth, Alex’s murder is about a reprehensible and repulsive ideology all too common within our society that preaches that it is better to be dead than disabled.”

Tragically, Alex is not the only autistic individual or an individual with a disabilty to have been killed by a relative in recent memory. Wendolyn Markcrow suffocated her 36-year-old son with Down Syndrome, Patrick, in Buckinghamshire in England in 2005. 3-year-old Katherine McCarron was killed by her physician mother, Karen McCarron, with a plastic bag in Illinois in 2006. 11-year-old Glenn Freaney was strangled by his mother, Yvonne Freaney, in a hotel room outside Cardiff in Wales in 2010. McCarron was convicted of murder and is serving a 36-year sentence; Markcrow and Freaney were both given sentences of manslaughter instead of murder. While Markcrow was given a two-year-sentence, Freaney was not sentenced to any time in prison; the judge told her that he believed she had been “punished enough.”

I know from caring for my own severely autistic teenage son that doing so can be extremely challenging. But what happened to Alex and to these individuals with disabilities is too terrible to contemplate. It should not have happened.

The Case of Alex Spourdalakis

According to the Chicago Tribune, the “River Grove Police Department was used to getting calls” from the Spourdalakis’ residence and “six to eight police officers were needed to assist ambulance personnel in strapping the boy to a stretcher” for visits to the doctor’s office. Alex’s parents had filed for bankruptcy in 2005 and had divorced in February after 23 years of marriage. His mother requested sole custody of him; an older daughter moved with Alex’s father elsewhere in the Chicago area.

Alex had been mentioned in news reports earlier this year when he was hospitalized in two Chicago area hospitals for reasons that are not entirely clear, as one doctor writes after carefully examining reports. Divorce papers for Alex’s parents say that, in addition to being autistic, he had ”aggression and a sleep disorder.” Spoudalakis had undertaken an online campaign to get funding for what seemed to be biomedical treatments for autism. Groups associated with such experimental treatments and “known for their criticism of mainstream autism treatment approaches [had] quickly embraced Alex’s story,” says the Chicago Tribune. The discredited British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, who has been associated with such “biomedical quackery,” had appeared in a video with Alex in May and appealed for funds for him, claiming that Alex would otherwise be placed in a psychiatric facility.

On January 24, an Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) investigator had visited Alex in response to a hotline allegation of neglect, but “found no wrongdoing,” officials say. Dave Clarkin, a DCFS spokesman, says that “family members refused DCFS referrals to community-based services ranging from respite to psychological counseling.” Public agencies and medical professionals still seemed to have concerns about Alex’s care. One of the hospitals he was at had told Spourdalakis that he could be placed with DCFS  if she did not agree to a certain care plan. It is not clear what sort of school and educational services Alex was receiving.

Spourdalakis and Skrodzka are to appear in court on July 3. Prosecutors say the two women had planned for a week to kill Alex. The letter and statements from the two women reveal that they intended to kill themselves by swallowing multiple pills. Furthermore, after Spourdalskis allegedly killed her son with a kitchen knife after giving him an overdose of medication, Skrodzka killed their cat because they did not want the pet to be sent to a shelter.

Hate Crimes Charges Based on Disability Have Only Been Filed Once

It has only been since 2009 that the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act expanded federal law to “allow for prosecution in cases where crimes are committed based on a person’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability,” says Disability Scoop. So far, the Justice Department has only filed hate crimes charges in one case. Earlier this year, five people were charged with hate crimes for holding a group of individuals with disabilities captive for years in subhuman conditions in Philadelphia, in order to take their Social Security checks.

The National Council on Disability is planning to meet with the FBI to discuss Alex’s case and is also seeking to meet with the Department of Justice. Whether or not Alex’s death is ruled a hate crime, efforts to categorize it as such are crucial to prevent future acts of violence against autistic persons. They send a powerful message that, while life with and caring for someone with a disability can be very challenging, individuals with disabilities must not and never be seen as a burden.

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217 comments

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4:34AM PDT on Mar 24, 2014

This is the rest of my last comment. I think the muddy waters of contempory disability issues are important as contribute to unrealistic thinking, service provision etc., and that's dangerous.
The other inane term is using "neurotypical" instead of refering to the "normal". There is no such thing as neurotypical, all humans have minor variations in their brain structure. Normal refers to the bell shaped graph where most persons who have the potential to have an adequate independant healthy functioning and social participation.The two extreme flat lines cover at one end those with the least capacity to function this way independantly and the other end the most outstanding in functions depending on whats being evaluated. There are clear demarcations to what qualifies as intellectually disabled / and or being combined with physical functioning. Furthermore, Aspergers syndrome has wrongly been tied to outright more severe autism. It's been found that brain scans of the two groups are not at all alike. The fact that some shared traits occur as assumed by problems with empathy and communication occur is where it ends, aside from the obvious levels of severity. How would the Aspies be liking to be lumped in instead with psychopathic personality disorder personality? It's just the higher functioning one could claim by that wrong logic - as with autism-of shared traits in empathy and socal communication. The woman did not hate her son or disabled people, she hated how her son's dis

4:07AM PDT on Mar 24, 2014

Most of these well meaning contributira are guilty of the following from current trends:
The biggest problem are the defensive illogical attitudes, fads, distortion of language that's semantically incorrect as well as faulty categorisation used by many wether family, the afflicted and other trendy hanger ons regarding cognitive disabilities.Such has become an overly politicised football that it's impeding proper diagnosis, some research,prevention, potential treatments that could be effective and proper realistic support levels and types.Those responsible for funding and porentially dealing with the disability field find it cheaper while the disability client field fluff around impotently consoling themselves with their contemporary falsehoods. "Differently abled" is a meaningless and stupid term when applied to persons who are happy to accept the category of disabled via impairments when it comes to accessing needed support s and financial assistance. Everyone is differently abled. Frequently most disabilities , from physical ones, intellectual ones, learning cognitive minor impediments etc., result in other compensatory increases, yet these increases don't generally compensate sufficiently to allow a life without other far greater limitations or support needs or at best just extra effort to overcome them. The majorty of the community who get to personally know someone with a disability at even a significant level, can register that persons unique strengths and abilities.

1:02AM PDT on Mar 24, 2014

Michelle you are reacting emotionally and not logically to what I reasonably pointed out. I never condoned the killing of the boy.The laws of the land do not allow this as well as most people find it repugnent to do so. The fact is it is natural of most mammals and has been for some humans in the past to eliminate rescource demanding unpleasantly behaved young that drain vital rescources to negligable affect. I have worked both as a direct carer, support educator and case manager as a social worker of children and youth with intellectual, with or without significant physical disabilities. I excercised compassion, fairness and a level of effectiveness in my roles.I've been told by my sons and others that I have been a fantastic mum.There are in the main in the disability arena many persons with the correct treatment, support and with REALISTIC acceptance many reasonable gains made for these persons. Furthermore, many of these are most times good people to know. Some afflicted with certain severe forms of autism with extremely challanging behaviours are hell to know or deal with, but society has got options to provide the necessary basic care with facilities and rostered staff so the care load is feasibly distributed and via wages renumerated. This needed form of care can encompass not just the severest challinging behavioured autistic types, but extremely demanding physical care needs and psychopathic and severly mentally ill or severe substance abusing mildly intellectually

1:02AM PDT on Mar 24, 2014

Michelle you are reacting emotionally and not logically to what I reasonably pointed out. I never condoned the killing of the boy.The laws of the land do not allow this as well as most people find it repugnent to do so. The fact is it is natural of most mammals and has been for some humans in the past to eliminate rescource demanding unpleasantly behaved young that drain vital rescources to negligable affect. I have worked both as a direct carer, support educator and case manager as a social worker of children and youth with intellectual, with or without significant physical disabilities. I excercised compassion, fairness and a level of effectiveness in my roles.I've been told by my sons and others that I have been a fantastic mum.There are in the main in the disability arena many persons with the correct treatment, support and with REALISTIC acceptance many reasonable gains made for these persons. Furthermore, many of these are most times good people to know. Some afflicted with certain severe forms of autism with extremely challanging behaviours are hell to know or deal with, but society has got options to provide the necessary basic care with facilities and rostered staff so the care load is feasibly distributed and via wages renumerated. This needed form of care can encompass not just the severest challinging behavioured autistic types, but extremely demanding physical care needs and psychopathic and severly mentally ill or severe substance abusing mildly intellectually

3:41PM PDT on Mar 19, 2014

Bridgette - You are heartless and I hope you aren't a parent.... because your children won't be getting the unconditional love they deserve with that attitude of yours. ALL children are a financial burden to their families, not just those with differences from the norm. ALL children have moments where they drive their parents to distraction and distress. A parent with a child with additional/different needs has access to a variety of resources to help, including through the schools, through social work agencies, counselors both through non-profit agencies and private practices, and more. There is NO reason to try to use a "burden to family/society" reason as a validation of MURDER. If she couldn't handle the situation any more, she also could have turned him over to foster care, to other family members with more patience, etc. And yes, I know what the heck I'm talking about, because I HAVE parented a child with a variety of disabling challenges, and done so even when my nerves are shattered and I'm in despair. I did it, and he is now a young adult, looking for work, and taking a remedial college class this summer. There are plenty of kids who were non-verbal when younger who find their voices, either spoken or through technology, who shine as adults. Get over your judgmental attitude and see the diamonds hidden in the rough. Meanwhile, that mother SHOULD be facing murder charges enhanced by hate and abuse clauses.

4:34PM PST on Jan 13, 2014

This is not a hate crime. The women never tortured the teen before killing him as pay back for all the suffering and waste of their personal life rescources. It's a crime of stupidity mixed with arrogance. The laws of the hand make it clear that killing anyone, aside from immediate self defence, is sanctioned and punished.The type of real autism the teen had( constant input, no progress at extreme ongoing parent costs) via logic and rules of animal nature would mean he'd be eliminated via abandonment or killing of not for these laws. Such kids can be given over to permanent goverment care and ought to be when family can't stand them any more.Any way these two women can't really be punished anymore. Attempted suicide, so deaths not feared and any prison time will feel like a holiday camp compared to living with that teen.

10:00PM PST on Jan 6, 2014

People with autism are not disabled. They are other-abled!!!

12:10PM PDT on Jul 13, 2013

Alex, but he was targeted out of hatred in general and was targeted based on his disability. I don't think Dorothy, because of social stigmas and attitudes was fully aware of how much she hates autism. Autism is often promoted as worthy of hatred as a condition and treated like a disease rather than a disability. One thing that promotes our dehumanization is vaccine conspiracies that have been proven time and again to be incorrect. Now, even if these are correct, this does not mean that it is not hateful to treat us as if we were some monstrosities caused by toxic bioengineering as if we were some subhuman robots out of a science fiction movie. Jolanta has spoken up angrily in support of this nutty little theory in the past.

Now, I honestly feel kinda sorry for Dorothy and the insanity she put herself through, I really do, but misinformed hatred is still hatred all the same. It is tragic, yes, but sentencing her to life in a federal prison on hate crime charges is the just and right thing to do. I do not feel like any preexisting of Dorothy's own is responsible for any of this. The type of insanity Dorothy went through was frustration from misinformation and mistakes that she herself made. If this gets prosecuted as a hate crime, justice would truly be served and it would send a positive message across the country (and possibly the world) that we are people and should be treated as such.

12:09PM PDT on Jul 13, 2013

As a 28 year old man with Asperger's Syndrome, I have to speak my peace on this matter. This is a hate crime. Plain and simple. Yes, Alex needed a lot of support and never got it and yes, it caused the family a lot of stress, but, lets be clear here. Stress is by no means whatsoever an excuse nor call for murder. Trust me, if it was, there would be a lot of people I'd want to kill. Lol. Come to think of it a lot of stress does come from hate.

As for the "angel of mercy" argument, I regret to say that it is terribly misinformed. Terribly. It is incredibly mainstream, yes, and because of that, many people can follow the attitude blindly without giving it serious thought, but that doesn't make it correct in any way shape or form. You don't improve a person's quality of life by ending it. Not to mention that in Alex's case, he was non-verbal, so he could not communicate how he felt about his life. Even if he wasn't, you improve a person's quality of life by getting them the help they need.

Now, it is true that Dorothy tried vigorously to get him help without any success, but media often misrepresents exactly how to go about helping severely autistic individuals and she was honestly hitting a lot of wrong keys and she honestly let a lot of her rage build up on her through her own mistakes. Now, whether this is due to malicious intent or ignorance, I do not honestly know, but it really should not be considered a relevant factor in this case.

Now, I don't think Dorothy hate

4:19PM PDT on Jul 11, 2013

Terrible!

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