Mother killed autistic son “to get rest” (Forensic Psychology)

Mother killed autistic son “to get rest”, court hears

Source: The Forensic Psychology Article – The Telegraph, 10 May 2011. 

Summary of the article.

This article published in the Telegraph dated 10th May 2011 describes the death by strangling of a 11 year old autistic boy by his mother in the Sky Plaza hotel in Rhoose, Cardiff. The article states that after strangling the son, the Mother unsuccessfully tried to take her own life by slashing her wrist, arms, shoulder, chest and feet. It appears from the article that the main motive behind the killing was to relieve the child and herself from the stresses of day to day life. The mother attributed a number of reasons to justify her actions. The pressure and stresses arising from a breaking marriage and its impact on her four children had led her to live in hotels for almost a month preceding the incident. She informed the officers who arrived at the scene about her son autism and how her actions would free him of his problems by taking him in higher place. She gives a number of others reasons to support and justify the positive reasons of killing her son.  Furthermore according to article she treat the killing as one of the solution to free her son form autism as in haven all man will equal and free of illness such autisms.

In spite of her justifications, it appears that she is indeed aware of the wrongfulness of her actions. This becomes evident in one of her statements where she acknowledges that she may not have been able to join her son in heaven as God may not forgiver her for her actions. This can indicates an aware of the immorality of her actions. However she goes on to add that her parents or the son’s grand parents would never the less be available to look after her son in the after life.

From her actions, it appears that she has thought about the implications and impact of her actions on her immediate family. This can indicate that she is aware of her responsibility towards the emotional well being of her other sons. She left a number of suicide notes for her children. This may indicate that tried to help make her children make sense of the situation. One of the suicide notes was addressed to her 14 year old son where she wished his him good luck in his future and tries to make him understand that her suicide should not be necessarily seen as negative. She tries to make him understand that the situation is actually good for her as it puts her to rest. She even try to highlights the fact that her autistic son was involved in making the decisions as she claimed to have asked him numerous times if he wanted to be with his father or his special needs school but that on all the occasions the son pointed at her instead.

Contrary to her justifications, the prosecutor tries to present that the autistic boy could have had a normal life expectancy and that he could walk, run, play all those he could not talk. In spite of this, the prosecutor acknowledges that she was indeed a responsible parent and was devoted towards the long time care of her children. The prosecutor added that the child needed full-time adult care and supervision. He needed help to dress, wash, brush his teeth and eat. These were duties which the mother seems to have fulfilled with devotion and love.

The mother denies murder but has admitted to manslaughter. The trial continues.

A detailed examination of the topic

A recent report of FBI files reported that the murder of a child is the a type of crime which enters terror, anxiety and apprehension in our population. The problem of mother filicide exceeds the borders of our society and challenges existing social norms. According to FBI files, from 1987 children homicides in the UK domestic setting cover 2398 deaths where 28% are less than ten years old. According the De Young notes (1982) ”the offender sees the child victims as representations of all his problems and everything he hates about himself as well the dreaded memory of his own childhood”. As we see in the article above in the case of the mother killing the autistic child, the mother believes that by killing her child she will free the child from the pain of autism.

The psychology handbook defines murder as killing of human being by another human being. According to Brookman (2005), manslaughter is hard to establish because of the thin line between the various definitions of murder. Classification of this description implies that murder can be perceived as accidental and un-intended death or the occurrence of an episode which can be distinguished as murder. According to Black (1990), murder is defined as malice which describes the “ill will” to harm someone else.  “Malice afterthought” which is the intention to kill differentiates the murder from unlawful killing (malice coming from the Latin “bad”). According to Hillbrand (2001), murder is a “single-incident offence” which mostly involves one victim and the predator does not commit another murder even after serving the prison sentence. According to data from the department of Justice in the United States, killing of children by parents tends to occur more in children under the age of 5 years old. In the past of 25 years, of all the children under age 5 years who were murdered in the United States, 61 per cent were killed by parents, 30% of the children were killed by their mothers, and 31% by their fathers. Moreover the valuation of the record of the centre for disease control and prevention for 1994 suggests that homicide was the third direct basis of death between children from ages 5–14 years.

In the article discussed above, the mother attributed a number of reasons to justify her actions of killing her son. This can be seen as the process of neutralisation. Gresham Sykes and David Matza’s neutralization theory explains how a person who commits a crime may try to justify their behavior by providing alternative definitions and explanations of their actions . This is seen throughout the article where the mother gives a number of justifications for her actions.

According to Finkelhor and Ormrod (2001), homicide of young children are 71% predominantly by family members and usually by “personal weapon” (use of hand or feet, strangle or suffocation). Furthermore, Finkelhor and Ormrod (2001) uncover no difference between the number of murders between girls and boys. However children younger than one year old possess a greater risk of homicide. Those age categorisation of the offspring are mostly killed by family relatives who believe that they are not able and capable of raising a child or simply don’t want a child. According to the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect (1998), the most common reason for the parent to kill their child is the attention requirement and constant need to be the centre of their interest.

A number of researches and studies conducted in the past can help provide a better insight into the case discussed in the article where the mother kills her child and later unsuccessfully tries to take her own life. As Fox and Zawitz (2001) point out, the death of the child is more frequent is the family setting where parents are in the middle of a divorce or where a father abuses his child. This finding is supported by the case discussed in this article where the mother is going through a divorce and has been forced to live in hotels for almost a month before killing.

According to Resnick’s (1969) psychiatric study, mothers who kill their children experience recurrent psychoses and are in need of mental treatment as they suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts. Furthermore Resnick’s (1969) distinguishes the reason and motive of the mother who is responsible for killing her own child. One of the killing motivations is “altruistic killing” where mother believes that she is killing the child out of love. Mother is convinced that murder of her child is of the greatest importance and is the best thing for her child. This finding is supported by the article discussed above where the mother tries to justify the killing of her child by stating that she did not want the child to suffer the from the day to stresses of life as an autistic child. In the article, the mother offers numerous justifications to support why killing her child was best for the child. She indeed believed that by killing the child she would free the child from terrible and horrific life experiences and that his death is the best solution for him.

Maternal filicide-suicide

In conjunction with mother’s motive to kill her child, there are many different reasons for the parent to commit the murder. According to Oberman’s (1996) study, mother’s socioeconomic background was usually poor and they had experienced social isolation. However the need of the child was the major focus in mother’s life. Alder and Baker suggest that some of the mothers were victims of domestic violence and had experienced problems in relationship with they partner. The above findings together with the findings of Silverman and Kennedy (1988) are consistent with the case discussed in the article where there is a constant focus on the problems faced by the autistic child. Overcoming the difficulties experienced by the child and the help he needed as an autistic child are some of the triggers for the murder.

There are numerous studies that show the relationship between the murder of a child and ensuing suicide attempt by the mother. This is consistent with the article where the mother tried to kill herself after taking the life of her child. According to Wallace and Sydney (1986), a number of mothers who kill their children were suicidal, depressed and experience psychosis. Nock and Marzuk (1999) also found that 16-29 per cent of mothers who kill their child concluded their crime by suicide.  On the other hand, Appleby (1996) found that five per cent of suicidal mothers of young children kill one of their children. These findings are consistent with the article where the mother tries to commit suicide after the murder of her child.

On another note, Daly and Wilson (1998) found that suicidal mothers who kill their child more often kill older children (mean age of murdered children was six years old) as opposed to infants. The recent study of Friedman Hrouda and Holden (2005) found that the mothers indicated symptoms of depression and psychosis. Alongside they reported many cases where mothers who kill their children take their own life after killing her children.

Abusive parent

In the study about violent parents and non abusive parents, Frude (1991) found characteristics of prototype behaviour that emerged from frequent exertion and difficulty in raising children. He pointed out that those parents have little acceptance and tolerance to their child’s behaviour and have problems to control their anger. Parents are mostly depressed with low self-esteem and lack in empathy. In addition, Wolfe (1987) implies that abusive parents have pessimistic and damaging perceptions of their children and also may have improbable and unreasonable outlook on their children’s life. Such parents may believe that the children are intentionally being hard and challenging but the truth is that their unrealistic expectation of their children’s life is what makes them unsuccessful. Marauder pathology becomes likely the main factor in child abuse where predator behaviour interacts with difficult child behaviour and results in tragedy. According to viewpoint of Sedlak (1991), the focal point of child abuse can be the social context in which the child has poor family background, social difficulty and social isolations. Violent parent can come from abusive family where the parent could have had an abusive childhood and learnt throughout his life that violence is the right method to raise their child.  These parent child interaction problems can be solved with the right assistance and help. As we see in the article above, lack of proper help and support available to the mother and the autistic child is likely to have led to violence and abuse and this case even death.


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To what extent can addiction be explained in terms of brain dysfunction?

Our world is changing really fast and scientists can now explore subjects that were previously unapproachable. For example, scientists can explore how the genes and environmental factors affect the brain, how the brain responds to drugs, and how drug abuse is driven and changes in the development of .

In order to find an explanation to the question “To what extent can addiction be explained in terms of brain dysfunction”, it will be necessary to provide the definition of the most important term and theory of addiction which will be used in this essay in order to clarify the account of the thesis. The work of Robert West (2008), Dr. Nora Volkow ( 2003) and O.J. Skog (2000) will be presented in order to find the explanation for this question.

The Major Biological Theory describes addiction based on the explanation that the main cause of addiction lies in genetic theory and disease model.

According to Robert West (2008), Disease Model of addiction proclaims that addiction engages pathological modification in the brain that results in overpowering urges. The disease model of addiction matches the medical explanation of the disorder which defines disorder as a form of irregularity or defection and disturbance. According to the diseases model of addiction, addiction can engage and affect the function of the Central Nervous System. (Gelkopf, 2002).

According to medical terminology the “disease” is a medical nonstandard condition of human beings which shows weak physical function or distinction, distress which can be related to specific signal and interaction of biological, social, physical, and psychological uncommon structure and function.

The disease model of addiction analyses the process of drug abuse as an illness which is in need of rehabilitation and therapy. According to disease model of addiction, the problem of addiction lies in environmental and biological factors, and is strongly related with genetic predispositions. According to ‘Disease Model’ of alcohol dependence, the addict does not have control over the addiction and is missing the choice because of the genetic predisposition.

The model also provides explanation of the individual differences of human beings, the weakness in the learning process and the vulnerability which needs improvement and regaining. In addition to the model there are three conditions of the rule in which an addict can be treated.

First is the “Loss of control” which states that an addict will show the motivation to stop taking the drug and engage in addictive behaviour but at the same time will continue to be involves in the addictive behaviour. Addicted person will often make self promises to stop taking drugs and will show the true potential to do so. But in reality, they will be not able to keep the agreement made with them self.

The process of loss of control starts from small things, for example a cigarette smoker will plan to smoke just four cigarettes a day from the next day and will most likely break the agreement by smoking more cigarettes than initially planned.

In addition to this, their way of thinking will start to change and the impact of not being able to stop will affect the overall behaviour in a way that the person will not able to refuse or refrain from being involved in the addictive behaviour. The loss of control will be expressed in a variety of ways, for example an addict will not be able to keep promises or continue with work or studies as he or she was able to do before their addiction.

The second condition of the disease model is the “importance of urge” which controls the addict in the process of addiction. The addictive person is extremely motivated to get the “next fix” and will do everything to succeed in it. The uncontrollable and unbearable craving cannot be stopped even in situations when the addict thinks that he or she has the choice but at the same time is not able to even consider it.

The third and last condition of the disease model is “self-cure” which reveals the situation in which an active addict stops engaging in addictive behaviour for a period of time and will never come back to it. Then again some addicts may not really be addicted to the drug in the first place as compared to a heavy user who stops for some time and relapses again.

The Disease Model of addiction states that an addict doesn’t have any control over their addiction and the ability to chose is not present.

However the new findings of Dr. Volkow states that drug addiction is a brain disease. It is not just loss of determination to fight the addiction but there is much more to it.

According to salience theory of dopamine, the neurochemical is released in brain when something unexpected but significant happens, for example if we unintentionally burn our hand. Dopamine is activated in our brain in a situation when we are paying full attention to the things which we want to remember because they are really important and cannot be forgotten. Throughout addiction there is superior activity in the dopamine which is involved in learning, motivation and memory process. The superior activity of dopamine is five times stronger in the time of drug use than in normal process of remembering. The increased dopamine activity pushes the brain motivational and attentional system to concentrate completely and only on the drug. During the addiction the addictive brain becomes accustomed to the dopamine and starts to reduce the system down.

From the evidence of dopamine theory of addiction, it seems that drug addiction is a brain disease expressed as compulsive behaviour. For those researches Dr. Volkow used the brain imaging technology called positron emission tomography (PET) of seventeen long- term addicts addicted to cocaine. Dr. Volkow found that the cocaine strength brought on high levels of excitement among the participants which was related to the cocaine capacity to block the dopamine transporter system. According to Dr. Volkow, the finding suggests that the brains thalamus region may have an addiction related level of functions.

All those findings support the view that addiction is a brain disease and the predisposition to become an addict are strongly determined by the biological and genetical tendency of the individual.

Dr. Volkow, in some of his researches, has indicated that addicts have smaller amount of dopamine receptor D2 which was found in the brain in the same place as the part which is involved in motivation and compensation behaviour. With the receptor D2, an addict is in strong need to take the drug over and over again.

In order to explain the account further, it is important and essential to explore the ‘Choice Theory of addiction’. The opposite view of biological approach will be presented to compare and contrast both of the theories to obtain clear answer to the question of this essay.

The work of O.J. Skog (2000), and his “Choice Theory of Addiction” presents the addiction in terms of choice which an addict makes more readily and willingly than urge. Skog highlights that an addicted person always has a choice and the choice has the main control over the addict. There is no other power which drives an addict’s behaviour to control the addiction. In this case addicts have control over the choice, and the control can change only when an addict simply changes their mind. The strength and steadiness of choice can change the consistency and addict can lose the strength of his performance.

Skog’s choice theory is missing the primary characteristic of behaviour which explains the behaviour just in the context of choice. The Choice theory explains that an addict always has the choice from the start, from the choice to choose the drug and the choice to engage in the addictive behaviour. According to the Choice theory for the addicted person, the most important issue is for the addict to recognise that he has choice, which means that all his actions can be controlled by the simple choice to engage in addictive behaviour.

This essay has considered explanations to the question “Can addiction be explained in term of brain dysfunction?” and has also presented the new scientific evidence of dopamine theory which has been compared to the basis choice theory.

It is clear that the understanding of the addiction will progress further in future and that the addictive personality is developing and changing. There are no magic pills in the world to cure addiction, and there are no perfect theories that will describe the exact process of becoming an addict.

All over the world researchers have tried to ask the right questions in the study to find answers and help us understand addiction better. In the end we can all agree that some of the things that happen deep inside the addict’s mind will remain a mystery.

The debate about the predisposition to become an addict is changing all the time because of new findings and studies.

In the first part of this essay, the disease model of addiction was presented to support the view that the addiction is based on the biological theory of addiction which states that humans become addicts because of the genetic, biological, and environmental predispositions. We can agree with it because of many years of research which proves that in some addicts, the genetic and biological factors stand out.

The first and most important difference between these two theories – Disease Model and Choice Theory – is, that in the ‘Disease Model’ addicts do not have control over their choice. As we have discussed in the beginning of this essay, the “loss of control” is so strong that the addicted person cannot keep any promises or agreement. The next and maybe the most important difference between the ‘Choice Theory’ and ‘Disease Model’ is that, the addict experiences the “urge” where in the Choice Model the addicted person does not experience any urge. The choice model believes that they have the opportunity to choose what they want to do with their addictive behaviour. In reality the craving is so strong that all choice points in direction to get the “next fix” to feel better.

The last difference is that the Disease Model claims that the addicted person believes that he or she has control over self- cure. This distinction can be determined by the time in which they engage in the addictive behaviour.

In addition to the theory of choice the “rational choice” has control over the addictive behaviour. The responsibility to be involved in addiction is in fact missing and an addict is not able to control the choice because the control is dominated by urge.

All of these findings point towards the idea that the force or urge to take drugs is determined not just by the choice, but by high biological and environmental factors.

This account clearly indicates that addiction can be explained in terms of brain dysfunction because even if the addict is able to make the choice to abstain from drugs for a period of time, some stronger force will take control over the motivation and those forces can be biological or genetical. These findings provide further explanation to the question of this essay. When we reflect on these theories, we can agree that all knowledge about addiction received from the different theories that have been discussed, have real potential to understand the causes of addiction and can be developed further in order to find the best possible strategies to cure the vulnerable people of the population who are suffering from the power of addiction.


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