chapter  34
11 Pages

The Autistic Victim: Of Mice and Men

Media coverage of these ‘‘mercy killings’’ often solicits sympathy for the killer.5 To give only one example, after Daniela Dawes killed her 10-year-old son, Jason, ABC reported that

When the victim of the crime is disabled, the killer may even be more likely to receive a reduced sentence. (Dawes’s sentence was reduced: she pleaded guilty to murder in 2004 but was ‘‘ultimately sentenced to a five-year good-behavior bond.’’)7 Media coverage that is sympathetic to autistic filicide, presenting parents as overwhelmed by their children’s care or depictingmurder as an act ofmercy (highlighting the pain the disabled child was believed to be suffering), works together with reduced sentences to suggest a lack of cultural value placed on autistic personhood. In this chapter, I want to explore the fluid boundary between fiction and reality in literature about autistic characters in order to contemplate the various ways in which reality influences fiction (and fiction influences reality) in cultural discourses about characters (and people) with autistic characteristics. I amnot arguing that any real-life tragedy was inspired

by any fictional event, only that assumptions that devalue autistic identity and stereotypes that create fear and discrimination may be in dialogue between media interpretations of actual events and depictions of characters in fictional works. Fictional depictions found in literary texts and the public interpretation of actual events become mutually sustaining social artifacts that forge a cultural connection between autism and death. The interconnection of the ‘‘cure or kill’’ trope of disability studies and real-life events tragically reinforces cultural attitudes that regard neurotypical subjectivity as the only subjectivity.8