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Why Are People Suing the Family of a Child With Autism?

The Short of It

It's not exactly "love thy neighbor" over in Sunnyvale, California, where a battle over the alleged behavior of a child with autism in one neighborhood has devolved into a lawsuit that's worrying autism advocates.

The Lowdown

The plaintiffs, Robert Flowers, Bindu Pothen, and Kumaran Santhanam, say that the son of Vidyut Gopal and Parul Agrawal, who has autism, was aggressive and violent toward their own children—including, biting, kicking, and hitting—and that the parents' failure to supervise their son made their own children feel unsafe stepping outside their homes. The suit seeks unspecified damages and a permanent injunction to ensure that the boy can't assault anyone in the neighborhood.

The plaintiffs in this case say that the legal suit is a last resort, after years of trying to work with the family to help them control and curb the boy's violent behavior. "I didn't want to do it, because I knew I would look like the bad guy," Flowers said in an article in the San Jose Mercury News. "We're not upset about him being autistic. We are concerned and upset about his violence (toward) our children."

But autism advocates worry that this case opens more families up to the threat of legal action, often for behavior their children simply can't control due to their condition. And the family at the center of the lawsuit claims they did many things to try to control his behavior, including administering medications, hiring caregivers, and sending him to special classes—but nothing worked. The family has since moved.

The Upshot

Autism can be an incredibly challenging issue for a family to face—especially if the condition leads to violent behavior, as is alleged in this case. It can be extremely hard for families to keep the level of supervision that's needed to keep their child from harming others. But the other families in the neighborhood also have the right to head outside and play without worrying that they'll be under attack. Long story, short: No matter who comes out on top in this lawsuit, which is heading back into court soon, nobody wins.

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