Bad neighbors are a dime a dozen, but a family in Sunnyvale, California has encountered a particularly bad batch.
Vidyut Gopal and Parul Agrawal are reportedly being sued because their neighbors claim the couple’s autistic son brings down their property values. And if that wasn’t cruel enough, the lawsuit called for the little boy — now 11 — to be labeled a “public nuisance.”
To be fair, the behaviors alleged in the lawsuit don’t sound terribly pleasant. The couple’s son is accused of pulling neighbor children’s hair, trying to run into neighbors with his bicycle on purpose and repeatedly sitting on a neighbor’s cat.
If the allegations are true, the neighbors may deserve some apologies.
However, human compassion goes both ways.
Kids on the autism spectrum — depending on the severity of their diagnosis — may not act like other neurotypical kids. Aggressive behaviors like those mentioned in this neighborhood are common with kids on the spectrum — as much as half of kids with autism struggle with aggression.
And there’s no magic button that parents can press to “fix” that. You can’t discipline a child with special needs into behaving in a neurotypical manner anymore than you could discipline a child with diabetes to suddenly be able to eat junk food without their pancreas acting up. Autism is a physical condition, and one that kids don’t just “get over.”
In this case, the parents reportedly started giving their son medication, placed him in special classes and hired a caregiver in response to neighbor complaints, although the lawsuit proceeded.
Here’s the thing. With one in 88 kids on the autism spectrum in America, chances are pretty darn high that there might be a kid on the spectrum in your neighborhood. And while their behavior can really range, depending on just where they fall on that spectrum, there is a chance that you could have a kid with autism in your neighborhood who stomps, screams, acts out… does any number of things that their parents can’t just magically stop.
So what do you do?
For starters, you can get educated. Read the literature. Find out what makes kids with autism tick, and what you can expect.
Second, ask the parents what they need you to do. They’re right there, living with this kid. They know what their kid needs. And chances are, they also want their kid to be a good neighbor and one who is accepted in the neighborhood. Sometimes, it’s something as simple as not making loud noises that upsets their child (over-reaction to loud noises is common for kids on the spectrum) or alerting them before you throw a party next door that will upset a routine-oriented kid.
Third? Put yourself in that kid’s shoes. Would you want the neighborhood labeling you a public nuisance for something you can’t control? Didn’t think so.