A Sunnyvale, California mother shot and killed her 22 year old non-verbal autistic son, and then turned the gun on herself. This story comes courtesy
of the Oakland Tribune:
A Sunnyvale mother shot and killed her 22-year-old autistic son in his bedroom, then turned the gun on herself, according to police. Department
of Public Safety Capt. Dave Verbrugge said Wednesday that the pair were found about 7:45 p.m. Tuesday in a home in the 800 block of Nectarine Ave. He
did not disclose their names or a possible motive. Public records show that Elizabeth Hodgins, 53, lives at 813 Nectarine Ave., with a 22-year-old,
George Hodgins. A 51-year-old man also lives at the home; police say the husband was not home at the time.
Neighbors confirmed the names of the mother and son. Jennifer Sullivan, executive director of the Morgan Autism Center, said George attended the San
Jose center for most of his life, starting when he was six years old. "He was delightful," she said. "He was non-verbal, but very physically
active. He loved walking and hiking." Sullivan said that George could not talk and used a voice-output communication device for limited
communication. He did not drive and "constantly was working on his independent living skills," she said. "He needed to be supervised at all times
for his own safety.'' Neighbors often saw George mowing the lawn with his father, his dad's hands over his.
George stopped attending the autism center in December. Sullivan said it was because Elizabeth Hodgins told her that she wanted to find a program that
was more community-oriented, where her son could be out in the world. But one neighbor said that Hodgins told her several times in the last few
months that her son was getting increasingly harder to handle, and that she couldn't find a new program to take him. "She just couldn't do it any
more -- take care of him anymore''' said Jacquie Jauch. "She was just tired and very lonely." Jauch said that Hodgins pleaded with her: "Please
help me find a program. I need somewhere to put him. I need a rest."
Sullivan described Elizabeth Hodgins as a woman who "adored her son. They were very close." There were no obvious problems that Sullivan knew about
between mother and son. But in general, she said that many parents with autistic children are "very close to that line of going over the edge."
Having a child with autism, Sullivan said, can be very "isolating. You're on 24 hours a day. There is no respite. It's ongoing, and once your
children become adults, you continually wonder, 'Who will take care of my child when I die?' " Tracy May, a mother with a special needs child who
lives a few blocks down from the Hodgins, came to place flowers at the family's home Wednesday, adding to a growing memorial. "It is a very big
strain to raise a child with special needs," May said. "You have to have support. You don't know what causes this to happen. A lot falls on the
mom." When told that Hodgins was having a hard time finding a new program, Sullivan was upset: "I wish we would have known. He could have come back
here. We loved George."
I posted this story because I worked with families who had autistic members for years, and I can attest to the difficulty of handling these children.
It is a full-time, 24/7 job, and most parents burn out on it. Many of these autistic individuals cannot speak, and many cannot even use the bathroom
by themselves, even as adults. When they are smaller, there is school and other programs that can give the parents a break, but once they get to be
adults (at least, according to the calendar), the resources for giving these parents respite dry up.
As communities struggle to provide basic services, expect even more cutbacks for programs that assist those with mental retardation and autism. Yet
the autism rate is skyrocketing.
Imagine how difficult it is to deal with a non-verbal, non-toilet trained autistic child. They are usually hyperactive, have no fear of dangers, and
have to be watched constantly. The entire family's activities revolve around these children, leaving the neurotypical children ignored and
resentful. Even a simple trip to the grocery store can turn into a nightmare as the autistic child has a meltdown because the bright lights, noise
and stimulation are too much for their sensitive nervous system to handle. Most have to be put on a harness or they will bolt and run away, often
into traffic or other dangers.
Now imagine that same behavior in a grown, full-sized 22 year old man, still bolting into traffic, still having meltdowns of epic proportions, and
still not able to use the bathroom unassisted. Most parents become exhausted, isolated, depressed, and desperate.
I understand exactly why this mother did what she did, although my heart grieves for her and what she went through. There are thousands of these sons
(and daughters) and mothers, hidden away, depressed, and desperate for some respite for their burden. Try getting a babysitter for a grown man like
this, it is almost impossible. These individuals will never be able to live independently, although that is the dream of every parent of an autistic
I pray that there will be a time when we stop spending our tax dollars on war and killing, and put more of that money towards helping those families
who have these children. All they need is a night out, some time to destress and decompress from the constant care-giving, struggle and worry. I
used to be in charge of a respite program for these families, until the budget was cut. At the time the budget was cut to zero, I had a waiting list
of families that ran into the hundreds, and that was just for one county. The outcry from the parents was ignored, and remains unheard.