A recent ABC News segment is sparking new debates about how neighbors coexist with families of children with autism.
From 2007 until September 2014, Vidyut Gopal and Parul Agrawa lived with their 11-year-old boy in Sunnyvale, California, a wealthy Silicon Valley suburb. During that period, the boy allegedly “kicked and slapped other children and repeatedly bit people,” though his parents contend these reports are exaggerated, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
In June 2014, neighbors Kumaran Santhanam and Bindu Pothen and Robert and Marci Flowers filed a lawsuit against the family, alleging that the boy has become a public nuisance. The neighbors contend that the lawsuit is focused on the child’s parents, whom they accuse of failing to adequately supervise their child.
In addition to the alleged safety concerns, the lawsuit alleged that the situation creates an “as-yet unquantified chilling effect on the otherwise ‘hot’ local real estate market” and that “people feel constrained in the marketability of their homes as this issue remains unresolved and the nuisance remains unabated,” according to the Mercury News.
The next month, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction against the boy’s family, to ensure he “does not strike, assault, or batter anyone in the neighborhood or their personal property.” Shortly after, the family relocated, although they still own the home in the neighborhood shared by the plaintiffs.
After more than a year of legal proceedings, the parties, at a hearing held September 22, agreed to attend a court-supervised ordered mediation, in hopes of resolving the situation. At the hearing, Judge Maureen A. Folan chastised the parties for failing to come to an agreement.
“The question I have for each and every one of you is: Do you want to be solution-oriented and a great model for your kids,” the judge told the families at the hearing, the Mercury News reported.
Disability advocates voiced support for the judge’s decision.
“The judge was trying to send a message that neighbors need to find a way to work things out without aggressive, expensive lawsuits like this one,” Jill Escher, president of the San Francisco Bay Area Autism Society, told the Mercury News.