Pardon me as I reel from the media circus that resulted from our blog post about a lawsuit in which former neighbors of an autism family are seeking to have an autistic boy declared a "public nuisance."
To see our recent SFASA official statement on this matter, please see the Autism Society of America website here.
But I feel an additional point must be made. The Plaintiffs have been saying "this case is not about autism" per se, but rather about the disruptive and occasionally aggressive acts which frightened them. Autism, they say, has nothing to do with it.
Children with autism, including two of my own, suffer from neurodevelopmental abnormalities that significantly impair the ability to learn, communicate, interact and function. Every incident (wandering, spitting, hitting, kicking, taking food, for example) alleged in this case stems from that stubborn biological malfunction in that boy's brain. I can't imagine a qualified expert witness in the world who would deny that.
Our society is replete with people with disabilities, disorders, and diseases who act abnormally or disruptively as a consequence of their conditions. For example, people with Alzheimer's may elope. People with mental illness may mutter, scream, loiter, wander, or attack. People with Tourette's Syndrome may shout and tic. People with seizure disorders may exhibit disruptive body movements. People with cerebral palsy may exhibit uncontrollable movements. Countless people with developmental disorders or intellectual disabilities exhibit disruptive behaviors that violate societal norms every day.
Some plaintiffs might say, "This is not about the Tourette's, it's about the screams," or "This is not about dementia, it's about the wandering into our garage." But in both cases the behaviors are grounded in a neurological short circuit, and not in volitional behavior. The complaints are squarely about the disability-caused behaviors.
Civil rights laws apply to people with disabilities, including autism. Under federal law, people with disabilities belong to a protected class, triggering the requirement of an additional layer of accommodations of disability-related behavior before evictions or similar forms of community ousting can occur. I should know, I'm a landlord to six adults with developmental disabilities. I make such accommodations all the time. It's only when reasonable accommodations don't work that I have the legal right to evict a disabled tenant even if he poses a threat to person or property. Otherwise, under the law, it's discrimination.
We all have a right to be protected from harm, I could not agree more. But given that the family left the neighborhood a year ago, that no adverse events are alleged to have occurred for more than a year and a half, and that no actual injuries are even alleged as to the Plaintiffs, this case is no longer about reasonable steps to ensure protection from a developmentally disabled child. By seeking draconian forms relief including a "public nuisance" declaration, the case has moved squarely into the realm of disability eviction and discrimination. This case is very much about autism.