Tuesday, March 8, 2011

NY seizes autistic children from parents because of "extremely unsanitary conditions" in home

From The Journal News in N.Y.:

POUND RIDGE, N.Y. — Authorities on March 4 seized custody of two severely autistic brothers and arrested their parents, who are accused of housing them in "extremely unsanitary conditions."

But James Yates, 57, and his wife, Jean, 59, say authorities overreacted after accusing them of caging their youngest son, 17, in a holding pen that they said was three soccer nets stitched together with metal cables, and a gate, to keep the boy safe.

The parents were released without bail by Town Justice Edward Hand, who arraigned them on two misdemeanor counts each of endangering the welfare of an incompetent person.

"We are talking a significantly diminished air quality and sanitary condition compared to normal conditions," Pound Ridge police Chief David Ryan said of the couple's ranch-style home at 5 Lyndel Road.

Officials said the Yateses' older autistic son is 19, and the couple also has a 21-year-old son who is not autistic and lives at home.

James Yates acknowledged that the home was filled with boxes and other garbage, but said it was mainly because an outdoor trash bin was buried in snow. The yard was lined with assorted junk and collectibles, including a couple dozen birdhouses and a traffic light on the ground. Beside a large bin filled with boxes, soda cans and other trash, a sign over the garage read "The Twilight Zone."

The holding pen was still set up inside, with a net blocking an open side of the living room.

James Yates told the The Journal News that he erected it so his 17-year-old "doesn't roam around at night and hurt himself."

"This is a soccer net so he wouldn't climb over it," Yates said. "He's not strapped in, and is happy as can be."

Yates also said the couple had been fixing up the house at the time authorities showed up.

"We're not living in that big pile of crap," he said. "We were causing the crap."

At one point during the interview, he argued with his wife, who tried to pull him inside as she scolded him for speaking to the media.

Ryan said the arrests stemmed from a call from a school bus driver who, on Feb. 11, reported an undisclosed medical condition involving the youngest boy. Ryan said police, prosecutors and child-welfare officials then found unhealthy conditions in the family's home.

Jean Yates said the boy had a seizure in the driveway on Feb. 11 as he was about to board the school bus. She said he has had seizures before as a result of his autism, and argued that, since it happened in her driveway, the driver should have let her handle it.

Instead, she recalled, "Everyone started running all over the place."
James Yates said that once emergency personnel arrived at the house for the 911 call, "All of a sudden it became, 'You can't take care of the kids.' "

In a 2002 newspaper interview, Jean Yates detailed the family's struggle with their two autistic sons, who were 10 and 8 at the time.

"You go through the grieving process that you go through with a death," she told The Patent Trader, a weekly formerly owned by Gannett Co., the parent company of The Journal News. "It's the death of a dream. It's the dream child you are never going to have. The kid that was going to be in the Little League team. The child model. The child actor."

"If you can't make it through to the acceptance part, then you fall apart," she said at the time. "Or somebody in the family falls apart. Or the husband walks out on the wife. Or the wife walks out on the husband. That happens all too often."

Jean Yates said the 19-year-old was diagnosed before his third birthday, and the other boy before his second.

She said the youngest boy had a tendency to run away whenever the opportunity arose, while his brother was self-destructive and tended to bite.

The Westchester District Attorneys Office, state and local police, the county's Child Protective Services and state's Adult Protective Services are all part of the ongoing investigation.

Hand ordered the Yateses to return to court Monday morning. The judge also issued an order of protection prohibiting the couple from any contact with their sons, and ordered James Yates to surrender his .22-caliber rifle.