On the evening of Tuesday, March 6, Lester Hodgins arrived at his Sunnyvale, California home, near San Jose. We can only try to imagine his shock when he found his wife, Elizabeth Hodgins, 53, dead of a gunshot wound. Nearby lay the body of their son, George, who had also died of a wound inflicted by the Elizabeth’s gun.
Lester, and his neighbors, quickly understood why Elizabeth had taken the lives of their son and herself. George had spent most of his 22 years with severe autism. Autism describes a spectrum of mental impairment related to the inability to form normal social relationships as well as the inability to communicate with others. It also manifests certain stereotyped behavior patterns. George’s impairments, according to a neighbor, were low functioning and high maintenance. He was unable to speak and easily agitated. Some typical ASD characteristics are:
- Repeated or purposeless movements such as hand flapping, body rocking or sound making
- Lack of awareness, or understanding for, others´ feelings
- Inability to relate to peers
- Social isolation
- Inability to express emotions
- Poor gaze or eye-contact
- A non-existence of, delay in, or even loss of language development. Atypical or nonfunctional use of language
- Lack of interest in and/or unusual use of toys
- Repetitive or ritualistic behavior
- Insistent sleeping problems
- Poor motor planning
Another neighbor, who often took walks with Elizabeth, said that Elizabeth had told her that she had experienced a “nervous breakdown” within the last six weeks or so.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, a 2006 study indicated that about one of every 10 births in the United States produces a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). There is a wide range to this spectrum.
Although some people who have milder disabilities within the autism spectrum can be somewhat self-reliant, others, like George, are profoundly unable to cope by themselves.
The neighbors had seen the strains of caring for her son taking a toll on Elizabeth. “Although the son has spent most of his life going to the Morgan Autism Center in San Jose each day, he left the program in December and had been at home with his mother full time since then,” reports the San Jose Mercury News. When Lester was not at work, he also cared for George.
California requires school districts to provide services to those with autism until they reach age 22. Then it becomes more difficult find them adequate care, especially with the belt-tightening going on in most state governments. Executive Director Jennifer Sullivan said the Hodginses removed George from Morgan Autism Center because they wanted to find something more appropriate and community oriented for him, according to the Mercury News.
As neighbor Jacquie Jauch related, “She said she was tired and having a difficult time getting him into a program. She couldn’t find one that would take him. She was tired, tired and very lonely. She said she couldn’t take it anymore – take care of him.”
Time and again, both in this blog and in our book, Enough of Us, we have discussed the gamble involved in having children. The tragedy in the lives of George, Elizabeth and Lester Hodgins is just one example.
If you would like to learn more about the tribulations of other parents of the most severely afflicted ASD children, read this follow-up article from the Mercury News: http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-news/ci_20133086/parents-autistic-children-speak-out-sunnyvale-murder-suicide?IADID=Search-www.mercurynews.com-www.mercurynews.com.
Whether or not any individual favors the notion that people should refrain from the gamble involved in producing kids, we think it’s safe to say that everyone should think twice before doing so. We don’t know how many people consider it in a detached and thoughtful manner, but not to do so begs the question, “Why did this happen to us?” for anyone hit by tragedy inflicting their children.