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When is a Troubled Child a Neighborhood Menace?

Autism Neighbors Case.jpg

If there's a poorly behaved child who's causing trouble in your neighborhood, where do you draw the line? A civil action filed in Santa Clara County against the parents of an autistic boy for failing to control his behavior has been ordered by the judge into mediation.

Sunnyvale couple Vidyat Gopal and Paru Agrawal, the parents of the 11-year-old, are claiming unfair treatment and that the lawsuit has driven them out of their former home, where they are "never to return." Yet if you're a parent living nearby, are you willing to risk your own children being hurt in such an environment?

According to the two families who filed the action, they had long attempted to be compassionate and understanding with the Gopals and their child. The plaintiffs informed their own children that their autistic neighbor was "special" and had to be treated with extra care and consideration. Yet according to the civil complaint, the boy became a danger to neighborhood children with his outbursts of violent behavior.

The suit lists a number of incidents, including one occasion when the boy attacked a four-year-old child in October 2013, "pulling his hair, shaking his head back and forth, kicking him on his back repeatedly." That was the point when the plaintiffs reluctantly called the police; after more assaults they went to Santa Clara County Supreme Court and received a preliminary injunction against the child in June of 2014. Despite all attempts by the neighbors at conflict prevention, they say, the Gopals never committed to anything concrete that would keep the boy under supervision and their own children safe. Resident Kumaran Santhanam recounts that after one episode, Gopal told him:

He's autistic -- there is nothing you can do.

The tragedy of this case is apparent for all to see - a child with certain disabilities is "out of control," posing a very real risk to the safety and well-being of neighboring children. Autism is a condition that can only evoke sympathy from those who understand the sacrifices and hardships that parents of autistic children must make every day. When it comes to protecting our own kids, however, the simple truth is that there can be no excuses for aggressive violence.

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