Is My Child With Autism A Public Nuisance?
“You have to stop hitting your head on the walls. If you do, they are going to make us move,” I said, crying, trying to help my son calm down, desperate and not knowing what to do.
He was eight, and having meltdowns every night after school.
We had already received complaints from our neighbor in the complex. We received notes from the landlord with cease and desist orders, threatening eviction if we didn’t get the noise under control.
I was terrified. I was ashamed. I was sure it was my poor mothering causing this.
And I was certain that I was the only one.
Two years and an autism diagnosis later, we were living in a home instead of an apartment. The neighbors were further away now, and not sharing any walls.
But my son’s meltdowns were much more violent.
Holes in walls, windows smashed, books thrown out the window onto the front yard – I was still terrified.
What if they call the police?
What if the landlord isn’t as understanding as he seems to be?
What if my son continues to escalate?
Autism Resources Are Hard To Find
The behavior began to seep into our public lives too, outside of the bashed in, busted up walls of our own home.
Throwing a board game in Target, hitting a little old lady and turning my blood to ice.
Hitting one of his friends in the head, because he was being too loud in the pool. Kicking and denting our car, while we waited for the meltdown to pass on the side of the road. Breaking our windshield in front of his nine year old friend. Hitting me, kicking me, pulling my hair, biting me – every time I tried to restrain him and keep him from damaging property, or worse hurting someone else.
I felt frantic, all the time. I carried his diagnosis papers with me, prepared to show them to a police officer or security guard, all the time. I cried in pure exhaustion and desperation, all the time. I worried that my friends would stop bringing their children around us, and that we would be alone, all the time.
And I searched, desperately, for an answer, for relief, for anything that might bring some level of help, all.. the.. time.
It’s the reason I began blogging in the first place and eventually wrote a book. Help seemed impossible to find.
Is My Child With Autism A Public Nuisance?
A few years ago, neighbors of a child with autism, filed a law suit alleging that the boy was a “public nuisance” and that his behavior was having a “chilling effect” on the local real estate market.
The lawsuit claims that over the course of years the boy, now 11, had struck a baby with his hand, spit at and tried to ride his bicycle into neighbors, and repeatedly sat on a neighbor’s cat.
Not only was the lawsuit filed, but a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction against the parents to ensure their son does not strike, assault, or batter anyone in the neighborhood or their personal property.
The parents, after seven years in their home and neighborhood, moved.
There is so much media lately around autism awareness. I think it is good. I think it is really good.
But honestly, I think what I want more awareness of is this –
Behavior, for any child is communication.
Behavior, for a child with autism, who struggles to communicate at all, is his only form of communication.
The behaviors that this judge issued an injunction against, that this judge required the parents to shut down, are an element of autism itself. Assuming that a parent could simply “parent better” and stop it, makes me feel tired, sad, desperate, and angry.
No one wants to ensure that their child does not alienate the neighborhood, hurt other children, or sit on cats more than the ones who love him.
No one is working harder to find help, seek treatment, investigate options, avoid play dates, stay alert at the park, and physically intervene when necessary than the mom who is terrified for her child.
Never mind how much pain this child – confused, without coping skills or the ability to effectively communicate – struggles with every single day of his life.
This little boy has autism.
On some level, so does his family.
My son has autism.
On some level, so does my family.
There is nothing we can do to change that simple fact, nor would we.
Because the behaviors these neighbors and that judge are litigating against, are only a part of what autism is in our families. The tough part.
If you only focus on the behavior, you miss so much more.
My son has autism.
He has been violent and destructive at times, yes.
He also has been a good friend, always willing to help someone when they need it. He has been a teacher, to his younger brother, to his friends, to me. He has been recognized as a genius, able to comprehend advanced, complex subjects as if they should be obvious to us all.
He loves well and with abandon.
He shows me every single day what courage looks like. He is loving and brave and strong and smart and his behavior can be out of control sometimes. He is all of these things.
He is a human being. Not a monster. Not a nuisance. Not a lawsuit.
It is the humanity of autism that was lost in this neighborhood.
It’s a loss for us all.
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.
I can see both sides of the issue. By NO means am I saying people with autism should be condemned or generalized, but at a certain point you’ve got to seriously consider what is the fairest option for everyone involved. It’s NOT the fault of the parents or the child, and it’s NOT a matter of being a good or bad parent. But if other children are consistently being hit or having their property damaged, and if and only if the situation is not improving after long term in depth professional help, then the neighbors should have the right to ask the authorities for help. Sometimes parents (I’m not implying this applies to you or the other parents mentioned) do need the outside push to admit they’re in over their heads, and that they need to consider other options.
I understand your point completely. I think my primary concern is the label of “public nuisance” and the precedent it sets. My understanding is that in most cases like this, mediation is the option used. That way all parties are working together to come up with a solution. That seems reasonable and appropriate.
Thank you so much for being so kind with wording your comment. I appreciate the care you showed.
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