PLEASE FENCE ME IN!
Homeowners Association Refuses to Allow Family to Install Fence to Protect their Son with Autism.
Mark and I installed $7,000 worth of fence in our yard in Ohio to keep our three girls safe. The town gave us grief. We whispered "disabled child, safety issue, lawsuit" and we got our permit. Our association gave us INSTANT approval. Of course, we agreed to install a beautiful pool style fence in a bronze color that blended into the trees/grass and woods. We did not install a stockade. But if this family NEEDS a stockade to protect their son, they should be able to have one. They don't need any more agita in their lives. Just approve the fence!
Cyber Raspberries to this pathetic homeowners association.
CLAYTON - Hunter Guyader, 2, shows signs of autism, and he is a climber. He broke out of his crib when he was 11 months old. He almost fell from an upstairs window while scaling a couch.
Michele and Rene Guyader hoped to build a 6-foot fence to keep their fast-growing boy from falling into a sewage drain hole at the back of their steeply sloping lot. The homeowners association of their Clayton subdivision turned them down.
Although a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in February says that about 1 in 150 children born in the nation have autism or a related disorder, getting accommodations for such children can still be a struggle in private neighborhoods.
A privacy fence that tall "just creates a wall," said Rob Bailey of the architectural review committee. The Guyaders appealed the decision based on their son's special needs.
"It's not, 'Gee, I want a 6-foot fence because I don't like my neighbors,'" said Michele Guyader. "I like my neighbors, but I also like my son, and I want to see him safe."
North Carolina is one of only six states the federal government has certified for incorporating Americans With Disabilities Act accessibility guidelines in building codes. But such rules are geared toward public or commercial buildings or dwellings such as hotels, dormitories and nursing homes. They specify widths for wheelchair-accessible toilet stalls, heights for water fountains or the minimum percentage of units in apartment complexes that should be accessible. Backyard fences, though, aren't mentioned.
"ADA regulations only apply to public facilities," Theresa Cathey, president of TLC Management of Raleigh, told the Guyaders in an e-mail message after they appealed. A few days later, the Guyaders received a letter denying their initial request.
Telling a family with an autistic child they can't put up a fence is akin to telling someone in a wheelchair he can't have a ramp up to his front door, said lawyer Greg McGrew of Apex.
McGrew fought his Dogwood Ridge homeowners association in 2001 for permission to build a 5-foot-tall fence.
"My son at the time was an escape artist," McGrew said. "Turn your back, and he'd be gone."
Jacob, then 5, had already been diagnosed with autism. Even though autism is not a physical disorder, McGrew said, parents must often take physical measures to keep children with the disability safe, such as having an alarm system on their doors. Jacob had clambered over a 4-foot-tall fence at a previous home. McGrew and his wife were so desperate to put up a taller fence at their new residence, they went ahead and installed one without permission because the homeowners association was dragging its feet. The homeowners association in turn threatened to sue.
"By all means, let's go," McGrew said. With help from Carolina Legal Assistance, a nonprofit agency that represents clients with mental disability, McGrew eventually got the association to back down. Four of five association board members resigned after the tiff, McGrew said. McGrew later became homeowners association president and president of the Carolina Legal Assistance board of directors.
Bailey, the architectural review committee member in the Guyaders' neighborhood, said he was not fully aware of the son's condition until contacted by a reporter. He would consider a 4-foot-tall fence, topped with a see-through lattice.
The Guyaders aren't sure yet that will work. They argue an exception to the covenant is warranted because they didn't know of their son's condition before moving into Cobblestone subdivision about a year ago.
Early signs of autism
Hunter had been developmentally on track his first 12 months. But after the Guyaders' second child, Annabelle, was born, he started to regress. He won't get in to see a neurologist for an official diagnosis until May. But Hunter already shows signs of being on the spectrum for autism.
The 2-year old has regular meltdowns in the grocery store. To get him to nap, Michele Guyader must drive him around Clayton in the car for 20 to 30 minutes each afternoon.
On this day, after Hunter wakes up from a midday slumber, his mother scoops him up and carries him to the fridge.
"Mmmmmmmmm," Hunter says, hugging her neck then holding out his hands.
"You want milk?" she asks.
Hunter grabs the sippy cup. "Awaayway wawah," he says.
"Really?" Guyader says as if the babble makes perfect sense.
While most children at 18 months know about 40 words and are able to string together two- to three-word sentences, Hunter's vocabulary is limited to hand gestures for "more" and "please." He points his index fingers together, for instance, to say he wants more food.
Half the time, he seems deaf, Guyader says.
She and her husband must watch him closely when he plays in the front yard, pushing his Fisher Price lawnmower or loading rocks into a toy truck. He'll eat the rocks, his mother said. And he doesn't hear them calling his name, telling him not to run into the street.
That's why the Guyaders won't take him to parks without fences, and why they hope to find a safe enclosed space for him to play in their backyard.
Staff writer Peggy Lim can be reached at 836-5799 or firstname.lastname@example.org.