A single mother is fighting back in court against a former neighbor who filed a lawsuit over her 11-year-old son with autism, calling him a “nuisance.”

“I felt sick when I first read the entire lawsuit,” Serena Arvayo told McClatchy News.

Arvayo and her son Ezekiel, whom she calls Zeek, used to live with Arvayo’s parents in San Jose, Calif.

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After more than a year of living there, a next-door neighbor complained to Arvayo in May 2022 about sounds Zeek made while outside, according to Arvayo, who says her son is fully nonverbal and expresses himself through “vocal stimming, a form of vocalization.”

Arvayo explained to the neighbor that this is how her son communicates his emotions and can’t control it. Zeek has level three autism, a “severe form,” as well as ADHD, Arvayo says.

A few days later, the neighbor is accused of messaging Arvayo’s landlord, saying Zeek was playing “and making strange noises, and no adults (were) with him.”

“It is so disgusting,” she’s accused of adding.

Arvayo denies that Zeek was ever allowed unsupervised.

“It’s not his fault he cannot speak, and the sounds he makes are his only way of communicating, joy, pain, sadness, and the like,” she told McClatchy News.

Ultimately, Arvayo and Zeek moved out of her parents’ home in June 2022.

In December 2023, the neighbor, “Janine” Chun Lu, filed a lawsuit against her, Zeek, Arvayo’s father and the landlord.

Lu argues that the child’s behavior “constitutes a nuisance,” “continues to be indecent and offensive to the senses” and “has caused emotional distress,” according to her complaint.

She is demanding more than $25,000 in damages.

The lawsuit also accuses Arvayo and her father, Samuel Arvayo, of hosting “loud parties,” at the home. Serena Arvayo told McClatchy News the accusations against her family are false.

Mom sues the neighbor back

Now, Arvayo is suing Lu — accusing her of harassment, intrusion into private affairs, intentional infliction of emotional distress and abuse of the legal process, according to a cross-complaint filed by Arvayo on March 1.

She feels her son has been discriminated against, she told McClatchy News.

McClatchy News contacted Lu’s attorney, “James” Huan Ly, for comment and didn’t receive an immediate response.

Missy M. Cornejo, one of the attorneys representing Arvayo, her family and their landlord against Lu, called Lu’s lawsuit “outrageous and inhumane.”

“Can you imagine a world in which a child with a disability can be declared a nuisance for playing in his grandparents’ backyard? It is appalling,” Cornejo told McClatchy News.

Forced to move and can’t visit grandparents

When Zeek went out in the backyard, he loved to run around and would play with bubbles, according to Arvayo’s lawsuit. With his ADHD, it was tough for him to be inside, the cross-complaint says.

He “enjoyed the freedom and sensory changes that being indoors provided.”

According to Arvayo’s lawsuit, she and Zeek were forced to move out of her parents’ home because of harassment and intimidation from Lu.

Despite no longer living there, Lu has continued the harassment by contacting the property’s landlord, Marc Goubert.

Because of this, Zeek is “forced to refrain from visiting” his grandparents’ home, according to the lawsuit.

According to Lu’s lawsuit, she mostly works from home and Zeek’s behavior impacts her and other neighbors.

Her lawsuit says the boy had been “left in the backyard almost daily to wail and scream for hours” and that “rambunctious” parties have been held at the home.

According to Lu, Goubert hasn’t done anything to “remedy the nuisance” and instead has “gas lighted” her.

In a response filed March 1, Arvayo, her father, Zeek and Goubert “deny each and every allegation” made by Lu.

In speaking with KNTV, which first reported on the lawsuits, another neighbor said when Zeek plays outside, she shuts her door due to “the noises.”

Arvayo told McClatchy News no one has directly complained about Zeke besides Lu, as others are “understanding.”

She said she limited Zeek’s time spent in the backyard, but “that still was not enough.”

In May 2022, she published a children’s book inspired by Zeek titled “A Friend like Zeek.”

The book, “based on a true story,” is about Zeek meeting a new friend “who has a lot of questions about his behaviors and wants to learn about him,” according to an online description.

It’s a “story on kindness, awareness, and empathy for kids on moderate to severe autism,” the description says.

Arvayo said that the isolation and anxiety she and her family experience from “worrying about the judgment from others is already difficult enough.”

When Lu filed her lawsuit a week before Christmas, Arvayo said it was “such an insult” and “added an extreme amount of stress.”

“The lawsuit demonstrates a lack of compassion, lack of empathy, and lack of civility at its most basic level,” Cornejo said.

© 2024 McClatchy News
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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