The Rocky Mountain News today told the story of a Littleton, Colo., family suing their neighborhood association to keep a fence so that their autistic son wouldn't run away. I read this story -- you can see it here -- and wondered: Of all the problems parents and families have, struggling to find the right supports and services so their kids with autism can make gains; with all the effort it can take to do simple family things others take for granted, like going out for ice cream or attending a worship service; with all the uncertainty about why the incidence of these disorders are rising, and what we can do to understand it, unlock its causes, treat its symptoms and seek solutions; with all the unanswerable questions about what the future holds, next week, next year, way ahead when mom and dad aren't here to help. With problems these children face, like the Little League baseball coach in Pennsylvania who offered money to a youth to throw a ball to injure an autistic boy so he couldn't play, or the parents in Connecticut who today urged limits on what kinds of physical restraints school staff can use.
With all of that to worry about, this family has to fight for a fence to keep their kid safe?
The Colorado newspaper said autism experts advised the parents of 8-year-old Fletcher Illig to install the fence after he had been discovered wandering around his neighborhood, entering neighbors' homes, jumping on their beds, turning on their faucets. (The story also notes that the boy accidentally knocked over a halogen lamp that caused a mattress to ignite, and required fire damage repairs.)
The tan cedar wood fence is six feet tall and replaces a four-foot edition that didn't keep the boy in his own yard. Unfortunately, the Illigs live in an area where there's a neighborhood association leadership that wants the family to take the fence down so the association can approve its design. The Illigs say they gave notice to neighbors that they erected a fence similar to those of neighbors (one difference: theirs is tan, others are darker colored). They got Medicaid to pay for it. Then they got a letter saying the fence wasn't approved.
Maybe the story is more complicated. Maybe the neighborhood leaders believe the principle of upholding their authority over fence design is more important than showing some sensitivity to this family. Maybe that idea of who's in charge of fence aesthetics is more important than fixing a problem that could lead to some big liabilities, legal and financial, if something heaven forbid happens to the child. I hope it's simply a misunderstanding that gets solved with some easy-to-find compromise.
Like, maybe, paint the fence. We've got more important things to worry about.