Neighbors Defend Suit Alleging Boy With Autism A Nuisance
SUNNYVALE, Calif. — Defending their lawsuit against the parents of a young boy with autism who they say became a public nuisance, the two couples who sued say they only turned to the courts because the family refused to rein in the child who repeatedly attacked their kids and traumatized their neighborhood.
“I find it offensive that people assume I have no compassion for an autistic family when I am simply trying to defend and protect my children from being assaulted,” said Robert Flowers of the explosive public backlash that surfaced against he and his wife following media accounts last week of their lawsuit against the boy’s parents.
“This is not about autism. This is about public safety,” said Flowers, who spoke publicly for the first time Friday about the case.
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The Flowerses were joined by neighbors Bindu Pothen and Kumaran Santhanam in their lawsuit against the boy’s parents, Vidyut Gopal and Parul Agrawal, claiming that the boy, now 11, over the years kicked and slapped children and repeatedly bit people.
Reached Friday night, the boy’s parents emphatically said “we do not agree” with their neighbors’ claims, and declined to comment further on the pending litigation.
Advocates for families with children and relatives on the spectrum, meanwhile, are calling the lawsuit an outrage, and fear that if the plaintiffs prevail it could lead to copycat actions against other families with relatives who have autism.
Santhanam, however, said that the problem worsened over the years because the boy’s parents or babysitters often weren’t around at the time of the attacks to prevent them.
“This has to do with the parents’ responsibility to control their child,” said Santhanam. After one incident, he recalled, Gopal told him, “He’s autistic — there is nothing you can do.”
Santhanam said he and his wife, who have lived on the block since 1999, said they first met Gopal and Agrawal when they moved in next door with their son in 2007.
Not long after, they said, their neighbor’s baby son was diagnosed with autism.
“It was very hard for them, and we tried to do everything we could to support them,” recalled Santhanam. “They were clearly struggling.”
He said neighbors were sensitive to the couple’s situation and made sure to include the family in activities on the block.
When the boy’s parents told Pothen that the boy shouldn’t eat sweets, for example, she and others made sure that at Halloween and Easter, neighbors gave the boy other items as treats, including special eggs.
The couple said they told their two young children that the boy was different and had some problems, and to try to understand that. “We have an opportunity to be around diversity, so we embraced that fact,” Pothen said. But the incidents continued, she said.
By August 2013, when the Flowers family moved in, they told their two young children that the boy was “special, and we need to understand him,” even after the boy slapped their young daughter.
But in October, when he said the boy attacked their young son on his fourth birthday — pulling his hair, shaking his head back and forth, kicking him on his back repeatedly — Robert Flowers reluctantly called the police, because he said he wanted a paper trail to be established in case the attacks continued.
“I didn’t want to do it, because I knew I would look like the bad guy,” Flowers said.
“We’re not upset about him being autistic,” Robert Flowers clarified. “We are concerned and upset about his violence to our children.”
After yet one more attack in early 2014, Santhanam said, he and his wife asked Gopal and Agrawal to meet with them to talk about the problems and create a plan that would keep the children on the block safe. He said at one point, Gopal and Agrawal suggested their son could play outside on either the odd or even days of the week, and the other children could play on the opposite days.
But the boy’s parents, Santhanam said, ultimately didn’t commit to anything.
The two couples filed their lawsuit in June 2014, asking the court for a preliminary injunction against the family to ensure their son does not strike, assault or batter anyone in the neighborhood or their personal property. One month later, the judge agreed.
By last September, Gopal and Agrawal moved out of their Arlington Court home to a rental house in another part of Sunnyvale, where they say the neighbors have been more tolerant. The couple told the San Jose Mercury News that they don’t plan to move to their house.
The case returns to court Tuesday, when a judge will hear arguments about whether the plaintiffs should have access to the boy’s school and medical records.
As difficult as it has been on Arlington Court, Pothen said, there were no more problems after the injunction was granted.
“Why did we need an injunction to make sure that they are following laws we all have to follow?”
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