Mar 28, 2012 0 Share

Remembering George Hodgins


Black and white illustration of candles suggesting vigil.
iStockphoto

By now, you may have heard of George Hodgins, an autistic man whose mother murdered him and then killed herself. 

People are saying that George's mother simply broke under the stress of caring for an autistic man. Naturally, that has some autistic advocates up in arms: How many mothers of autists (people with autism) and of Aspies have struggled and never even considered killing their children? 

Even the idea that George's mother could have used more support upsets many activists. If we use this argument to try to get better funding for things like respite care, mental health services, more counselors to shorten waiting lists for services, more teachers' aides in classes to help students with special needs, etc., aren't we saying that it's a bit more OK for mothers of autistic kids to kill them if the stress becomes too great? 

One thing to keep in mind when trying to understand our feelings on the subject: As a group, we autists and Aspies have been disproportionately bullied, ostracized, attacked verbally and even otherwise by teachers and others in authority and in many other ways made to feel excluded and rejected. I'm no exception. I've had my jacket and gloves stolen (always one glove—the idea is to show that they don't like me and aren't trying to get something for themselves), been spit on, punched and more. To this day, every time I have to take more than a second or two to look for something like a winter hat or glove, I flash back to my childhood. 

And if we had a nickel for every time we were told that our behavior had provoked the bullying and made it “more understandable,” we could retire. (Heck, those of us who are of age can make it into a drinking game!) This stuff really grates on us because it sounds like blaming the victim. All too often, it is code for blaming the victim in a really discriminatory way—especially since people tend to be so vague when saying how we “provoked” the other person's jerkitude. (Maybe they were vague because they felt we should “know better.”) 

That goes a long way to showing why many autists and Aspies are having conniptions over the very suggestion that anything besides Elizabeth Hodgins' own resolve to behave decently could have saved George Hodgins. Even though no one has even claimed that he did anything “provocative.” Many autists and Aspies feel that even focusing on Elizabeth Hodgins' desperation implies that an autistic child is a curse. 

Yes, of course sane people are responsible for their actions. And obviously George Hodgins bears no blame whatsoever for his own murder. That doesn't mean that changing conditions doesn't change behavior. For example, when unemployment goes up, so do various crimes—including homicide. Does that mean people aren't really responsible for obeying the law and being decent? No. Would helping more people get and keep jobs reduce crime (other things being equal)? Yes. 

George Hodgins' mother is, sadly. only one example. We can learn from these horrible acts to emphasize that everyone must do what's right even when it's difficult—and to push for support and resources to help people avoid these terrible dilemmas in the first place. And I'll bet that in an alternative reality where Elizabeth Hodgins never shot her son, and he somehow knew he was still alive because she got the help she had needed  ...  he wouldn't mind one bit.