Steve and Susan Gordo have known the struggles of raising an autistic child, the progress and setbacks, and the haggling with local schools over education plans.
Now, their 18-year-old son Paul is awaiting trial on a felony assault charge that the parents say criminalizes the disorder that affects about 80,000 people in California.
“You can’t prosecute someone for behavior that is a direct result of their disability,” Steve Gordo said.
Gordo, whose father founded Gordo Pool City in Modesto, was a teacher in Ceres and his son attended schools in Sylvan Union School District. Five years ago, the family moved to Marina, near Monterey, where Paul Gordo is charged with felony assault stemming from an incident at a library last July.
Autism groups and other supporters have urged the Monterey district attorney to drop the criminal prosecution of Paul Gordo, who’s among the wave of young people with autism who are entering adulthood.
“There’s a gigantic bubble of young adults who are coming into a system that’s utterly unprepared to meet their needs,” said Jill Escher, president of the Autism Society of the San Francisco Bay Area. “We can’t as a just society let incarceration take its place.”
July 14, Gordo and his son were at the busy library in Marina for language study with a home teacher from the Monterey school district. Gordo said he was apprehensive because it is the type of setting known to trigger Paul.
People with autism have difficulty with social interaction, repetitive behaviors and communication, but some are also prone to outbursts, meltdowns and aggressive behavior due to sensory dysfunction. Gordo said a loud noise or admonishment can cause his son to lose control.