When Laws Are Made To Be Broken For Kids With Special Needs

J.J. Hart, a three-year-old boy with autism, used to sit around staring into space a lot. He barely spoke, and had temper tantrums. Then his dad started looking into animal therapy for kids with autism. He bought a few chickens for J.J., who dubbed them “ducks.”  These days, his mother has said, “He’s able to communicate much better. And it all has to do with the chickens. He plays with them. He cuddles with them. And he runs around the yard with them…. It’s made a tremendous difference.”

A year ago the town where the Harts live, DeBary, started a one-year trial program that allowed residents to keep chickens in backyard coops. Now the city council has announced the program is ending; J.J. will be forced to give up his chickens by December 31. As council member Nick Koval said, “It’s unfortunate, and I sympathize. But we spend a lot of time and money establishing codes and ordinances for the protection of the citizens and taxpayers of this community. And I believe that they [chickens] belong in agricultural areas.

While it’s more common to use horses and dogs in therapies, J.J. has a connection with the chickens. Given that kids with autism are very sensitive to change, getting rid of the chickens could be traumatic. J.J.’s parents have hired a lawyer to get the council’s decision reversed.

Perhaps this story is hard to understand if you don’t have a child with autism or other special needs. Perhaps the pre-parent me would have wondered what the big deal was to give up the chickens. But now, I understand what it’s like to do anything and everything to help your child with special needs thrive, whether it’s chickens or alternative forms of therapies, as we’ve tried over the years. When you find something that works, it can seem downright miraculous.

Stories like this have cropped up over the years. Last January, a boy with Down syndrome in Coral Springs, Florida, who had a house-trained therapy pig was granted the right to keep him after officials threatened to fine his mother to $500 a day for violating local ordinances. In Lexington, Kentucky, parents of a three-year-old with cerebral palsy built a playhouse where he could get physical therapy; the local Homeowners Association asked them to take it down. Last year, because of their case, a House committee nullified deed restrictions on small outdoor structures deemed medically necessary for kids 12 and young. And in Spring, Texas, in 2012 a local family won the right to keep a baby kangaroo to help their 16-year-old daughter, who has Down syndrome.

My heart goes out to J.J. and his parents; I hope they win their fight. If J.J. and his chickens lived in our neighborhood, if it were a matter of enabling a child, then to me there would be no question: Let the boy have his chickens. It’s the humane thing to do. The mayor of DeBary, Bob Garcia, agrees. As he’s said of the chicken program, which he hoped to extend until 2015, “It had so many benefits for this child. And it would have shown that we’re a community that is compassionate and understanding.”

Image: Facebook/Save JJ Hart’s “Ducks”

Add a Comment
Back To To The Max