June 16, 2013

Mourning Alex Spourdalakis

Posted in AMT's Faves tagged , , , , at 10:45 am by autismmommytherapist

Last week while on vacation I read a post about the murder of Alex Spourdalakis, a fourteen-year-old severely autistic boy who was stabbed to death by his mother and care-giver, who then cleaned off the knife and put it back into the butcher block in the kitchen. The two of them then took pills in what turned out to be a thwarted attempt to commit suicide.

I got that far in Diary of a Mom’s raw and beautiful post before I had to put my phone down and take a breath.

I’ve written in the past of other adults/children killed, either through premeditation or neglect, yet this case stunned me, perhaps particularly the part about cleaning off the knife and replacing it in the butcher block.

I cannot fathom any of it. Did they really comprehend the irrevocability, the finality of the proposed act?  Did they feel their suffering exceeded Alex’s right to live his life, whatever form that might take?

We may never fully know. Perhaps his mother and caretaker no longer know either.

I finished Jess’s post and found I didn’t care to know their thoughts. I also felt increasingly agitated and uncomfortable as I turned the story over in my mind.

In fact, I was haunted by it.

I tried to imagine how anyone, how any mother, could possibly get to that place in regards to their child, and I just couldn’t. Nothing justifies murder of a child, even in the most impossibly difficult of situations. Nothing.

Still, I felt uneasy, uncomfortable in my condemnation. I thought about our most difficult days with my eldest son, who has severe autism. I thought of our beloved boy, who has gone through periods of intense aggression with both his parents and his teachers at school, despite behavior plans, despite medication, despite autism experts with decades of experience at our disposal to help us.

I thought about how there are moments with Justin where I literally watch the “veil of autism” descend and claim him, where a coldness emits from eyes previously laced with love. Over the years his father and I have suffered a multitude of bites and bruises, often for no reason any sentient being could comprehend.

I admit to all of you, at times I’ve actually been afraid of my own child.

The same child who also curls like a comma into my lap every single night so I can sing him our signature song. The child who throughout the day grabs my face with purpose, looks into my eyes with a brilliant smile, and graces me with a hug and kiss, an embrace enacted out of pure love. There is an unparalleled beauty to these moments. I cherish them.

Despite some harrowing periods however I consider our family to be fortunate in terms of his behaviors, as his need to aggress has mostly subsided with his acquisition of a means to communicate. That flutter of fear still remains entrenched in me however any time we travel alone, as I am aware at ten his weight comes close to matching mine, and in his height he takes after his father, a tall man by any standard.

There were times even at five that he overpowered me, with a rage undoubtedly fueled by frustration, when none of my tricks of the trade could placate him, and calm his tortured soul. As I drummed my fingers on my phone last Wednesday night I was transported back to those days- often flush with fear, despair, and the worst part of all-  the thought that not only would these episodes not subside- they would only grow worse as he grew older and stronger.

I can remember feeling this way so clearly, as if those emotions are a second skin to me. Me, with my educator’s background, and a driving desire to help my son. Me, with my stable marriage and spouse who could fully support us as I stayed home to work with our toddler. Me, with my mom with forty years of special education experience.

Me, with all the advantages.

And no, clearly I never thought of abandoning or harming my son. But there were days I thought things would never get better. And those were dark days indeed.

Despite the prevalence of stories in the media these days of high-functioning autistics like my youngest son, there is the other side of the spectrum too, and it must be heard.

There are families who walk a road so excruciatingly difficult they bear no resemblance to my family’s path, as arduous as it has been. There are families who desperately need assistance just to get through the day, perhaps the next hour.

There is the other side. There is this autism too. And these families, these families who dwell in continual crisis, must somehow be helped.

I will of course never condone taking the life of a child, that inalienable right to breathe that Alex and others have been made to forfeit. The act of murder, in whatever form it takes, is and was unconscionable. It should not, cannot, be repeated.

I am so sorry for Alex., and those who’ve gone before him.

I don’t know how to end this. There’s no pretty bow for this post, no turn-of –phrase to finish it. I simply know that killing children has to stop, that somehow, somewhere, there must be another resolution.

My heart goes out to any parents who feel that autism as it manifests in their family is beyond their scope to manage. My heart goes out to any family without the resources, either social, educational, or financial with which to cope.

But most of all, my heart goes out to Alex, and his brethren in death.

You deserved better.

We will remember you.

For you, we will mourn.


  1. Cindy Toomey said,

    Simply heartbreaking.

  2. Big Ganga Photography said,

    Horrifying, diabolical. Preventable.

  3. What a sad story. I, too, have read of different incidences in which caregivers have intentionally or unintentionally caused the death of their autistic child. Some of them were respected people from respected professions and backgrounds.

    It’s incomprehensible what these people have done. For someone to harm a child, typical or atypical, is simple something unfathomable to me.

    I think you highlight something especially true, though, when you mention the importance of circumstance. A strong support system and the ability for one parent to stay at home are both strong tools in this struggle with autism. But some people, I guess, live in such darkness and despair. They allow the dark depression that sometimes accompanies rough days on the spectrum to get to them. It’s another reason why respite and having case workers are so beneficial to families affected with autism.

    Sometimes I get really down when I see how impaired my boy is. But with all of my fortunate circumstances he has been flourishing like I would have never believed he could. We have to see the strengths. We have to focus on the positives. For them and for us.

    I know it must be much more difficult for people who are caring for those on the more severe end of the spectrum. I was in Target the other day and there was a middle-aged mentally handicapped woman being wheeled by her caregivers. She was screaming at the top of her lungs. Her caregivers were soothing, yet actively ignoring, doing everything they should have been. I just felt so sad. What a quality of life. What kind of God gives this to a person? But, she was given THIS life and it’s the only one she’ll have. She has people taking her out of her comfort zones, even at this age, pushing for her to be better. And I have to believe that people like this are put on this Earth to make us better people. Even though, sometimes I’d like to believe I’d be just as good as a person if Lo didn’t have autism.

    Our job, as a civil society, should be to reach out to families of people struggling. Our government does provide services, but so much can be overlooked by quarterly check-ins by the DMH. Sometimes, raising a child with autism is extremely isolating and depressing. Hopefully we can recognize these families that are suffering, and reach out to them. No child should ever be harmed or killed because of feelings of hopelessness and despair felt by their parent or caregiver. It’s so heartbreaking.

    • Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response. I hope never to write or read a story of this nature ever again. Appreciate your input!

  4. Im a mother that fights for my son and will never give up on him! He is an adult with autism that was attacked and assaulted in an state of ohio facility! He was mislabeled “moderately retarded” so they could commit here there. HE HAS BEEN THRU HELL from a system that doesn’t understand autism, doesn’t know how to work with autistic individuals and blames him and even me for his disability! Because of my advocacy for my son, the corrupt system court appointed an “go along get along” attorney as an interim guardian for placement and medical decisions. The court says “im uncooperative with health care professionals” They know their court-appointed attorney wont challenge them like I will for the survival and rights of my son! I haven’t had much support from the autism community. I hope this never happens to another autistic individual and their family. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGJFHh9NcV4

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