October 8, 2014

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?

About the author 

Laurel Joss

Laurel Joss is a freelance writer with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She worked as an RDI® Program Certified Consultant and has published articles in Autism Spectrum Quarterly and on her blog www.remediatingautism.blogspot.com. She is a mother to two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. You can also follow her on https://twitter.com/speaking_autism and https://www.facebook.com/speaking.autism.ca

  • Why are they inserting well-known footage from the Judge Rotenberg Center torture video? What kind of point can be made by showing several adults taking down and shocking a teenager multiple times for not taking off his jacket when requested? That is what is shown in that video. I can only hope this hodge podge of stuff does not inspire copycat murders. Please note that the original press release for this “documentary” was September 1, 2913. K. Stapleton attempted to murder Issy Stapleton on September 3, 2013, two days after the press release. Sept. 1, 2013 Press Release of “Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis?” September 3, 2013 news reporting attempted murder of Issy Stapleton. It is unfortunate that the trailer for this film is gaining an even wider audience by you posting it here.

  • There is no excuse for murder. Full. Stop. It doesn’t matter whether the victim is young or old, Black, Brown, or white, nor female, male, or non-binary, nor abled or disabled.

    Certainly services — *real* services, most of which aren’t medical but educational, accommodational, and interpretive — are in short supply, but lack of such services is *never* an excuse for murder, nor ought we even to be talking about the issue of services in the context of a murder or attempted murder like those of Alex Spourdalakis and Issy Stapleton, respectively. Instead, we should be spreading the message that *Autistic lives matter*; that *under no circumstances is it ever okay to abuse or murder someone*.

  • This video is not only full of misinformation, it is DISinformation designed to spread fear of autistics, fear of autism, and the mindset that parents can do anything to their autistic child, up to and including murder.

  • This is not just a mere matter of “strong feelings on both sides” as this article states, but again and again, people make excuses for those who murder there children who are not neurotypical. Even the title of the film of Alex Spourdalakis is absurd. The system did not mixer him, the man in the moon did not do it, his mother did it. No shortage, waiting list, etc for services is ever an excuse for murder. This is rally not as complex as many seem to think it is. If a child is autistic, has Down syndrome, has red hair, happens to be left-handed, is a cheer-leader, is it play for the parents to murder them? Oh, now that confuses many people, because I included some “typical sounding” kids. Guess what? It does not matter. No parent deserves pity when they commit such atrocities. They deserve the same reaction that the world has when the victim is the all-american, football playing, social butterly. Until that changes, all of our children and Autisric adults are in danger, as their lives have been deemed less valuable, in fact burdensome to society. That is terrifying for my entire family.

  • This “documentary” is an abomination. It was produced by disgraced and discredited former medical doctor Andrew Wakefield, who is using this brutal murder of a young autistic child by his mother and his caregiver, to promote himself and his Autism Media Channel.

    Mr. Wakefield brought a film crew from his company, when he visited Alex, his mother and his caregiver. He was joined by a bio meddling team who used Alex’s mother’s pathological distrust of mainstream medicine. The murdering mother was offered assistance to transfer Alex to an treatment center for evaluation….and the mother refused.

    Mr. Wakefield, who owns the videotape of Alex, in his hospital bed with only an adult diaper to cover his genitalia, put those vile videotaped segments on YouTube.

    Alex was exploited by Andrew Wakefield when he was alive and now Mr. Wakefield continues to exploit Alex sixteen months after Alex’s mother and his caretaker drugged Alex before they each slit his wrists and plunged a kitchen knife repeatedly into his chest. The mother and the caregiver are awaiting trial in Cook County, charged with premeditated murder.

    The “system” didn’t murder Alex, he was murdered by his mother and his caregiver.

    Poor Alex. His last moments of his life were filled with abject terror.

    • While I don’t know whether or not Mr. Wakefield is a discredited medical doctor or not, I do know that I have a 32 year old son with a very similar condition, aside from the GI issues. I haven’t seen the film but plan on doing so in Houston this month. The trailer shows scenes that are exactly like what my son has endured many times in his life. Yes, Western medicine claims to have a drug for every ailment, but the truth lies in that each drug creates other problems which require another type of intervention and so it goes on and on. My son was a normal child until 3 years of age and he suffered some type of encephalopathy. At the tender age of 6 years old we had to place him in a residential facility. It was solely because he needed a very structured setting with people who have been fully trained in working with the most challenging cases of autism (my son is listed as one of the top 5 most difficult individuals to serve in the state of Texas ). Thank God I was able to find some kind of help as my 3 year old daughter with Down’s Syndrome needed special care and more attention from me. As an adult it becomes really difficult to find a place that will be able to provide a safe environent and some kind of quality of life for him. In order to save my sanity, I have had to turn his care over to a system that is severely ill-equipped to manage someone like him. Yes, he has and continues to be prescribed so many drugs that are effective for a period of time and then he becomes violent again. I see in his eyes a plea for help and I can’t help him …….it is so painful to watch this happen to your child who can’t reason and understand what’s happening – many times I have prayed that God would take him – I could never harm him but can see why someone who is not stable emotionally would feel that would be the only answer to end the suffering. While we don’t understand why this could happen to anyone it needs to be left in God’s hands, not ours.

  • Alex’s stomach was covered with severely painful ulcers. He was denied the basic medical care and treatment the system would have given to any neurotypical child because of autism. Alex lashed out physically due to the pain he didn’t understand – how else could he express himself? But his destructive temper tantrums were physically dangerous to himself and his caretakers. Instead of addressing his legitimate underlying medical issues with antibiotics, pain medications and the proper diet in an appropriate facility where his behaviors could be safely managed until he healed, the system just wanted to dope him senseless with psychotropic drugs. When his mother protested this wrongful treatment, she was threatened and bullied by the system.

    I don’t know Dr. Wakefield, but it appears to me that he and his organization were the only ones trying to help this mother help her child. There needs to be more money allocated to designing and developing facilities and personnel for children like Alex, so these overwhelmed parents do not lose all hope and feel driven to commit these awful acts. Instead of waggling our self-righteous fingers, we should be doing more to “bear one another’s burdens”.

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