Disability and Representation

Changing the Cultural Conversation

This is What You Get

The following is a revised version of a post I wrote for Journeys with Autism about the murder of four-year-old Daniel Corby.

Another autistic person has been murdered. This time, a four-year-old boy named Daniel Corby has been killed, allegedly by his mother.

And of course, someone had to say it. Because, when these things happen, someone always does. According to 10News.com in San Diego:

San Diego police sources told 10News Corby was a stay-at-home mother pushed to the edge handling a difficult child with autism.

Well, that explains it. The autism made her do it. Actually, it was her “difficult” four-year-old who made her do it. Oh, yes. Somehow, a tiny, defenseless child turned a loving mother into a homicidal monster.

And then there are the comments on the news story. Some of them are absolutely spot-on, condemning the murder without apology or explanation. But as always, there are those that plead for people to understand the difficulties of the caregiver and the impact of a lack of support. As one commenter said:

This is a tragic loss of life. However, I must say that until you have an autistic child you have no idea of how difficult it is to raise an autistic child…¬†Without a proper support system and the needed services I really do see how it can drive someone to the brink.

Yes, families don’t have enough support. Disabled people don’t have enough support. No one has enough support. And as long as disabled lives are devalued, we will never, ever get that support. So what happens in the meantime? We don’t get support because our lives are devalued. We get killed because our lives our devalued. And as long as people feel that without support, it is “understandable” that we are killed, our lives will continue to be devalued. We will be caught in an endless cycle without the possibility of change.

All attempts to explain this tragedy hide from view an essential fact about becoming a parent: In having a child, you make a commitment that, even if you end up in the worst extremity, you’ll protect the child’s life. That’s a basic, sacred trust. The child didn’t ask to be born, didn’t ask to be difficult, didn’t ask to be disabled. When people don’t speak to that commitment and that trust, but start talking about how difficult the child was, and how the parents lacked services, I get really scared. Because there will always be people without adequate support. And if people can’t simply say, “I don’t care how bad the parent’s life is. The parent broke a sacred trust with the child and had no right to do so,” I don’t see that there is any protection for disabled people at all. It’s very frightening to me. It means that I live in a society that is nothing short of barbaric.

When a four-year-old child is drowned by his mother, it’s not the time to wonder why she did it. It’s time to condemn that she did, and it’s time to look at how much we devalue disabled life that a mother thought her life would be better with her son dead.

Because the problem isn’t the lack of services. The problem is the devaluation.

And how do disabled lives get devalued? There are so many ways, it would be impossible to list them all here. But let’s begin with language, because language is the way that we understand, well, everything. What is the language that people use to describe disability and disabled people?

Burdens on their families. Burdens on the taxpayers. Tragic suffering. Waste of money. Not fully human. Should never have been born.

What do you think happens when you dehumanize people? What kind of culture do you think you are creating? What do you think the outcome will be when people are treated to a constant and unrelenting stream of words like that?

I’ll tell you what happens. A four-year-old boy is murdered, and people blame his disability.

This is what you get when you call disabled people burdens.

This is what you get when you call disability a tragedy.

This is what you get when you call disability a waste of money.

This is what you get when you say that disabled people are not fully human.

This is what you get when you say that disabled people should never have been born.

This is what you get. A four year boy. Drowned.

This is what you get.

And in the face of this disaster, I have one question — and it is the only question that matters:

Is this what you want?


San Diego News. “Boy, 4, Allegedly Killed By Mother Identified.” http://www.10news.com/news/30820120/detail.html. April 2, 2012. Accessed June 2, 2012.

© 2012 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg


    One comment so far | Leave your own comment

  1. 6/10/2012 | 4:39 pm Permalink

    Thank you for such an honest appraisal of this murder. Any death by murder is tragic and the murder of a child doubly so. My own disabilities, no matter how painful and unrelenting would be no excuse if I murdered my own autistic child.
    I totally agree our lives are devalued solely on the basis of our disabilities and to my mind THAT is the real tragedy………

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