Saturday, December 10, 2016

How to Avoid More Cruel Injustices Like the Alex Spourdalakis "Involuntary Manslaughter" Verdict

Shannon Des Roches Rosa
www.squidalicious.com

Alex Spourdalakis
[image: Smiling white teenage boy
with shaved dark hair, wearing
a coral colored tank top.]
Alex Spourdalakis was brutally murdered by his mother and godmother three years ago. Somehow, those women were allowed to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter* and will likely be released with time served -- even though they had been planning Alex's killing for a week.

As reported by Matt Carey at Left Brain/Right Brain:
"When they carried out their plan, they poisoned Mr. Spourdalakis with sleeping pills. When this did not work quickly enough, the mother and caregiver stabbed him. Not once, not twice, but four times, including two stabs to the heart. When even this proved not fast enough, the mother and caregiver slit his wrist. Slit so deeply that reportedly his hand was nearly severed from his arm. When Mr. Spourdalakis finally passed, the mother and caregiver turned the knife on the family cat. After cleaning the knife, they returned it to it’s place in the kitchen. The mother and caregiver then took large doses of sleeping pills, the method they had just found to be ineffective in the murder of Mr. Spourdalakis."
Legally twisting this onslaught of murder attempts into a involuntary manslaughter plea is shocking and disgusting, not to mention extremely worrying as a precedent. But that is what happens when our society is allowed to paint high-support disabled people like Alex (and like my own son Leo) as burdens rather than fellow human beings, and their parents as victims.

We need to keep the focus on the actual legal victims: The disabled people who get abused and killed. We need to speak out about Alex deserving the same justice that autistic teenager Issy Stapleton was given after her mother was sentenced to prison after trying (and failing) to murder her, as related by attorney Sam Crane:
"it’s really going to be very dangerous to [Issy] — and to many other people with disabilities — if the court sends the message that we should just expect abuse. That her disability is so severe that she should just expect to be abused by those around her because they are so stressed out. And that’s basically what it would mean if the court were to say that the abuse simply was a natural result of caring for a person with a disability."
If we want to prevent future tragedies, we need to challenge the status quo about the value of disabled people's lives. We need to speak out about the huge, huge chasm between understanding that parenting is hard when neither you nor your child have the resources you need, and justifying the murder of dependent disabled children. As I wrote after Issy Stapleton's mother tried to kill her,
"If you identify with a murderer rather than a murder victim or if you become upset when people criticize parents who hurt or kill their disabled kids, then maybe it's time to think about how you found yourself in that dangerous mind space and start making changes to help you, your child, and your family."
We also need to speak out against autism misinformation and pseudoscience, given that Alex's mother rejected all kinds of legitimate supports for Alex due to Andrew Wakefield and his band of fellow quacks convincing her to embrace pseudoscience instead.**

Another needed action: speaking out, and to, our community's families who are susceptible to crisis, so they know that they are not alone, and also know what their options are:
"Being in crisis is not the same as being a failure. Nor is it a personal failure to admit you and your child need help. So we need to work past fear and misinformation, and get educated about what our support options are, both during emergencies, and in general. Misinformation can lead to tragedies, as when parents absorb media-propelled myths that it more understandable for a mother to try to kill her child than to call Child Protective Services (CPS) on herself if she's thinking about harming that child. These dangerous myths sometimes persist because parents don't actually understand the role of CPS in protecting both children and families, nor are they aware of emergency services or rights-based services that were always available to them, if they'd known or been told where to look."
We need to help parents understand that there are usually reasons why high-support autistic people are aggressive or self-injurious, often communication-based or medical reasons. And as Dr. Clarissa Kripke says, we need to do our best to accurately observe people's life circumstances, and change them for the better:
"We cannot manage behavior in the context of unacceptable lifestyles. If someone’s situation, their social environment, the activities they’re doing, the people they are with, their physical environment is unacceptable to them, then that is the problem that we need to fix. For example, if they can’t be in the room because that air conditioner is too loud, and causing them such discomfort that they feel like they’re going to melt down, the solution isn’t to punish them, to yell at them, or to tell them they’ll be strapped to that chair if they don’t stop their behavior -- the solution is to turn off the air conditioner, or, if that’s not possible, to move to a different environment. The problem isn’t always obvious. Often, it isn’t anybody’s fault."
Finally, we need to heed what autistic people themselves say about what it feels like to be in crisis, as Brent White and Lindsey Anderson recently discussed:
"It’s important to remember that when someone is struggling, they are not being “bad” or trying to do something to you personally -- even though it can feel like that, especially if they’re screaming at you or making you angry."
None of these actions or understandings will bring Alex back. None of them will get him the justice he deserved. But if you help counter all the misinformation and ableist social attitudes that contributed to his death, with resources for helping autistic people and their families live better and safer lives, hopefully that can help prevent future tragedies.


*I am not linking to any news articles about the involuntary manslaughter verdict, as every one I've seen justifies Alex's murder on account of his disability. These articles are are easy to find online.

**For more information on how the autism huckster Andrew Wakefield pumped Alex Spourdalakis's family for adoration and publicity, and then left them far worse than when he hijacked them, please see Matt Carey's review of the resulting hoaxudrama Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis.