Flowers v Gopal – Rich folks try to declare autistic boy a “Public Nuisance.”

UPDATE 10/11/15: One member of the plaintiffs called me to offer their side of the story, which is that it’s entirely about public safety and not about autism at all; furthermore, they claim, they only sued because the defendants served them with a cease and desist letter, leaving the plaintiffs with no choice to sue. I have a lot of documents and will be reading them, but obviously I am aware that the plaintiffs are trying to win in the press, and weigh their account appropriately.

In Sunnyvale, CA, a bunch of rich folks are trying to use a lawsuit to declare a child with autism a “public nuisance.” Here’s a version of the complaint with, at the defendants’ request, the child’s name blacked out.

The neighborhood is rich.That matters in this story. A poorer context would result in informal working it out, child services intervening, or incarceration.

Initial News coverage:

I dislike how these stories lead with casting the boy as a menace. I’ll have much more to say about this in a forthcoming piece. It’s part of a larger pattern of both news representation and the way that private citizens, not just the state, try to declare the disabled as unfit for public spaces.
The latest is that the judge sent the parties to mediation. Here’s a statement from the defendants:

Sunnyvale Autism Parents Speak Out
By Parul Agrawal and Vidyut Gopal

Yesterday, the Honorable Judge Maureen Folan decided that the lawsuit against our family should go to a judicial settlement conference where both parties should mediate and put an end to this very unfortunate litigation. This case has caused grief not just to our loving and close-knit family, but also to the community around us. We have tried repeatedly to settle this case and sincerely hope that this judicial settlement conference will put an end to the agony.

In an attempt to protect our privacy, especially for our disabled son, we have been shy about talking to the press or appearing on camera. But, in spite of our desire for privacy, after all the public opinions about this lawsuit we felt that the community needs to understand our story too. We are very disappointed by the deeply manipulative falsehoods that have been spread about our family. We love our son deeply and have always provided the supervision and support he needs at home and in the community at large.

Our son is an affectionate, fun loving and outgoing boy who has autism. With support (and we do not deny that like all children with autism he needs support), he enjoys community activities, including hikes, swimming, and bicycling. He is learning to play tennis and has Bollywood danced on stage several times in front of large audiences.

When there is a genuine safety concern in a neighborhood, our society provides many remedies, including police enforcement and child protective services. In our case, neither of these public authorities found any public safety issue with our son warranting intervention. Please also note that to this date, not a single medical bill or evidence of property damage has been presented to our lawyers. More than a year ago, we felt compelled to move from Arlington Court, in order to provide a safe and nurturing environment for our son, and it has been a positive experience for our family.

We hope it’s obvious that no autism parents want their children’s outbursts to result in any harm to anyone else. Yes, our kids need more help than other kids. We do not deny that for a moment. Yes, we can—and do—go to the ends of the Earth to help them. But as the Judge said, when conflict arises, we must use our brains for creative community solutions and not aggressive, expensive lawsuits. We do not want a single other autism family to suffer what we have. Every day, every hour and every minute that we have had to live through this nightmare has been agonizing for us. But we are grateful for the amazing support of the community and the disability organizations around us. We just hope this lawsuit will result in stronger, more welcoming, and more resilient, less litigious neighborhoods everywhere.


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