Documentary about Alex Spourdalakis continues to provoke strong reactions

ct-met-aj-dorothy-spourdalakis-jpg-20130612A documentary about the final days of Alex Spourdalakis is causing controversy among advocacy groups in the autism community. Alex was the teenage boy who was killed by his mother and godmother after a highly-publicized stay at a Chicago-area hospital. The movie was produced by The Autism Media Channel, and was directed by Dr. Andrew Wakefield. It was awarded Best Documentary at the 2014 NYC Oktoberfest Film Festival.  Autism Daily Newscast first reported about the documentary here.

The Autism Media Channel website describes the movie as follows,

“This is the real story of a Chicago teen with severe autism and an associated intestinal disease that together, left him mute, in pain, and a victim of Psychiatry’s prescription pad philosophy. Filmed in the months before his alleged murder, this documentary fills in the blanks and shows what and who actually contributed to his death. Engraved into this short life and tragic death is systematic failure at almost every level of the US healthcare machine.”

The trailer for the movie can be viewed below

The Autism Media Channel website also features interviews with people who had viewed the movie. Most indicated that they felt sad, and that they had learned a great deal about autism and the challenges faced by some families.

There are others who disagree. Vincent Ianelli, M.D, wrote an article for the About Health website criticizing the movie and the theaters who agreed to screen it. He says,

“This is a movie that tries to offer an excuse for why this mother killed her own son – saying that her caregivers were ‘battling a system they felt was ill-equipped to help autistic children.'”

He quoted neurodiversity advocate Ari Neeman, who stated,

“I think an ideology, a dangerous ideology that preaches that people are better off dead than disabled is what led to Alex Spourdalakis’s murder.”

He goes on to say that this “dangerous ideology” is maintained when individuals and advocacy groups make public statements suggesting that autism is worse than death, that their child was “stolen” from them, or that their child is in need of rescue. He blames anti-vaccine groups and individuals, like actress Jenny McCarthy, who support them.

He goes on to ask AMC Theaters to reconsider their agreement to play the movie. You can read the full article here.

Other advocacy groups for adults with autism have also denounced the idea that Alex’s death resulted from a lack of services. The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) petitioned the U.S. Department of Justice to treat Alex’s death as a hate crime. They claim that attributing the murder of a child with autism to a lack of services sets a dangerous precedent that will lead to further cases of violence against individuals with disabilities. You can read more about the petition that Autism Daily Newscast reported on September 7th, 2014 here.

Clearly, there are strong feelings on both sides. The documentary shares details of Alex’s final days that were certainly a contributing factor to his death, but are they an excuse for the act that took his life in the end? Does this set a dangerous precedent for other caregivers of children with autism, or is the medical establishment woefully ill-equipped to handle the challenges that can co-exist with autism?

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  1. Paula C. Durbin-Westby October 9, 2014
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