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Civil Rights and the Death of Daniel Corby

April 5, 2012 | Rachel Ehmke

A four-year-old autistic boy named Daniel Corby died earlier this week after being drowned, allegedly by his mother. While local news in California is covering the tragedy, no major media source has picked up the story, which seems surprising, particularly since it comes so soon after the death of 22-year-old George Hodgins, an autistic man who was murdered by his mother last month.

The details we have are few. Daniel's mother Patricia has pled not guilty, but earlier she confessed to the murder, telling police she thought Daniel "did not have a life or a future without her."

We don't know whether Patricia thought that statement somehow justified her action—or just explained what she was thinking or feeling when she did it. And again we don't know whether the police representative who described Patricia as a "stay-at-home mother pushed to the edge" meant to justify the act either.  But we do know that the challenges of parenting don't justify denying a child his civil rights.

Self-advocates and parents in the autism community, already wounded by the tendency to blame autism for George Hodgins's murder instead of the person who pulled the trigger, are noting a pattern of misplaced sympathy in the media. Instead of speaking up for the victims, people speculate on how they must have frustrated their caretakers, driving them to murder. Lydia Brown, who blogs Autisic Hoya, notes, "This is the same thing as blaming a woman for her rape because she wore a short skirt or had a low neckline on her shirt."

April has been dubbed Autism Acceptance Month by many in the autism community who are set on recognizing the humanity and civil rights of people who have autism spectrum disorder. Not blaming Daniel Corby and George Hodgins for their own murders would be a step in the right direction.

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