Search This Blog

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Autistic Adults and the Balancing of Interests

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports on Simon Greenspan, an autistic adult living with his parents who created severe problems for the neighborhood:

To prod the Greenspans to do something about their son, police charged the Shaker Heights couple more than $6,500 in nuisance fees for 20 separate police calls to the neighborhood because of their son's outbursts. The police began assessing fees after a fourth violation prompted a warning letter from the city.

The Greenspans bitterly fought what they called a punitive attack by the city. But in their appeal hearing, neighbor after neighbor testified against them.

"My feeling, and in discussion with neighbors, is that if the assessments are not applied here, the Greenspans will consider themselves to be beyond the reach of this community and that they can bring their son back," said Aaron Bulloff, a lawyer who lives near the Greenspans, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Shortly after the last nuisance fee was assessed in September of last year, the Greenspans sent Simon to a therapy center in Ogden, Utah, where he lives in an apartment with 12 other adults with disabilities.


"I don't know where the line is in this case, but I don't think you get a free ticket," said Scott Standifer, an associate professor in the University of Missouri School of Health Professions who has written a guide for autistic adults in the workplace.

"There is room for accommodation," he said. "Then there is room for respecting other people's boundaries."

The paper editorializes:

The population of people affected by autism is growing, and although the affliction manifests itself differently in different people, vocal or even violent outbursts are not uncommon.

The experience of the Simon family and their neighbors is a cautionary tale for every neighborhood and every community to ponder. Most, it is safe to say, lack a solution more creative or satisfying than the one the Greenspans reluctantly chose.

Legally, this case was about a balancing of rights.

Humanely and practically, the right thing to do now is to consider whether better options might be established for autistic adults unable to abide by social norms.