It takes a village to raise a child, unless your village is full of assholes

Sorry, I know, that title is inflammatory. My apologies…sort of.

But I read a post from the Autism Society San Francisco, where neighbors are suing a family, to have their autistic child deemed a “public nuisance”.

In June 2014, two Sunnyvale couples, whose homes on Arlington Court flanked a home occupied by a nine year-old autistic boy and his parents, sued the autism family in Santa Clara County Superior Court, alleging a smattering of incidents that had occurred sporadically over the span of about six years.

 

And of course, they’re asking for money –

• Monetary damages for loss of property value. The Plaintiffs’ Complaint alleges that neighborhood “concerns” about the boy “have created 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.” For this alleged reduction in neighborhood-wide property values, Plaintiffs seek an unspecified sum of money as compensation.

• Damages and injunctive relief based on a litany of other claims, including abatement of private nuisance, negligence, trespass, battery, negligence—parental liability, statutory liability of parents for torts of a minor, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

• Attorneys’ fees and costs. The Plaintiffs also seek attorney fees insofar as they are “seeking to vindicate an important right affecting the public interest.”

 

Mind you – the family that’s being sued has moved to a new location. But they’re still being sued for loss of property value. Forget the money they’ve lost in moving, in renting out their former home, finding a new home, disrupting their child’s life.

ugh.

Yes, the story does say how the child with autism, between the ages of 3 and 9 years of age did do some stuff – like enter the neighbor’s garage, taken a banana from the neighbor’s property, thrown stuff over the fence.

Yep, serious stuff there. Banana stealing. The kid obviously is a psychopath.

When I was a kid, the one neighbor had these two grandchildren. A girl and a boy, who were near my age. They kind of ran wild. They were a bit annoying (okay, at age seven, I would hide from them so I wouldn’t have to play with them.) One time, my grandparents stopped by to drop off something and heard noises in the yard, and when my grandfather went to look, he found the girl sitting on top of our wooden clubhouse, hammering rusty nails into it. No one was home, these two kids just thought to come over and hammer stuff in our yard.

Meanwhile, my brothers and I would play baseball and other such things in our yard. When the ball would go over the fence, we’d argue over who had to go retrieve it. One side was the nicer neighbors, the other side was the meaner neighbor who didn’t seem to like us (ironically, it was his grandkids who would invade our yard.) We all managed to live beside one another without suing anyone.

Then I grew up and I had kids. Kids who knocked balls into yards. Constantly. To the point that the one neighbor would just find a ball and chuck it back over the fence into our yard. Because that’s what neighbors do. Throw balls over the fence. Catch your dog who’s escaped the yard. Wave politely at the very least. Share whiskey over the fence (okay, that was only in Ireland, where we had the best neighbor in the world, hiya Freddy!)

But now, I guess, we don’t throw balls back over the fence. We don’t chase off neighbor kids who have dared to cross the property line, giving them stern warnings. No, now we sue our neighbors.

And that scares the shit out of me.

My daughter is loud. She wanders sometimes, even though we have put padlocks on the fence and an alarm on the front door. It’s like she has a super sense as to when we let the guard down, take the lock off while doing yard maintenance, whatever. You can hear her screaming through the windows – screaming because she isn’t getting her way, or her siblings took their cell phone away from her, or because her brother walked into the room (yes, that happened once). She will sing loudly in the back yard, making up stories in her head for her dolls to act out – I love that sound, but at the same time, I am waiting for someone to yell “Shut up!” over the fence.

We moved over the summer, and our new neighbors stopped to meet us when we were out front and we found ourselves going “We have a child with special needs, we’re sorry about the noise.” But we have hit the jackpot with neighbors in this place – one family has an adult with special needs in the family, another couple, the wife is a teacher, so when I said “Our daughter’s in the life skills program”, you could see the light bulb go off in her head, and I thought with relief “She gets it.”

When you have a child with special needs of any sort, you really do end up with a village to help you raise your child. Your village is comprised of medical professionals, teachers and other school staff, family and friends. But that village also includes neighbors sometimes. Raising a child with special needs is hard. Raising them while being surrounded by assholes who are more worried about their property value than a human being is mind-boggling to me. And yet a common fear among my sort.

Because that’s what we need, more things to worry about.

I am so glad my village is an asshole-free zone. And my neighbors are so getting cookies this Christmas!

Maura on the first day of school, blending into Seattle society with her 12th Man jersey.
Maura on the first day of school, blending into Seattle society with her 12th Man jersey.

9/19/15 – BUT WAIT – THERE’S MORE NOW!

Okay, so this post seems to have sparked some debate here and there, about how this is just one side of the story, that someone knows someone who read somewhere that the child in question was a total menace, etc.

In trying to get the whole picture, I did look up a local news article, which gave the neighbors side of things, that the boy wandered and hit kids, and they even called the cops on him after he was hitting a 4 year old. There was also a whole lot of “we tried to help, we were good neighbors”. And maybe they were.

But a couple things sit odd with me – like why isn’t the incident where they called the police part of their lawsuit? Why is stealing a banana considered worthy to be mentioned, but not the police call? And are all neighbors that nice that they’d all band together to help this one family?

Yet still, I have a problem with the lawsuit. The idea that a child with a legitimate disability is being threatened with the label of “public nuisance” and that he brings down property value disturbs me. No matter his issues, he is still a child, and still a human being. His worthiness should not be of lesser value than a house.

Also, instead of suing the family who seems to be having issues with keeping the child in his own proper environment, why not pressure the county to do more to aide the family. Get an actual solution to the problem. Because as much as these neighbors are talking about how tired they were of having to deal with this child…imagine how tired the parents are! And tired parents need help. The solution to the problem isn’t suing or moving, it’s getting this family more help. Respite car. Home therapists. A safer yard for the boy to play in.

And finally, I’ve gotten a couple comments of “But what if it was YOUR kid getting beat up?”

Well, it has been my kid. More than once, and more than one of my kids. I haven’t seen fit to sue anyone just yet.

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