Dear Annie: I have a handsome 23-year-old son who has been dealing with Asperger’s syndrome for about 20 years. He has grown from a very young child who didn’t look at or talk to people other than the family to a young man who can even share small talk with people, attend college and be a successful track and field athlete.
However, he still has a terrible time knowing how to act around women, and he observes people around him for clues. He recently received a phone call from the campus police asking him to stop by. A woman had reported him because she felt uncomfortable around him at a dance. He had danced with her, sat and talked with her, and gotten her some punch, but then he put his arm around her. He did this because that’s what he had observed while watching other guys and girls. He felt terrible because he really liked her and is still missing the friendship that could have been.
In the next day or two, another woman complained to the campus police. He and this other girl had a class together and had talked a few times. She accused him of stalking her. But what she said was “stalking” was his knowing a few things about her that he had gotten from her Facebook page — and she had accepted his friend request.
He was banned from all the dorms and ordered to stay away from these two women. There was an appeal process, and the school lifted the ban on the dorms after everyone understood that with Asperger’s, a person doesn’t read body language or facial expressions very well.
He went to the speech pathology department last year for coaching about social situations. Now, after this involvement with campus police, the Title IX department — which we didn’t know existed — has gotten involved. It has some classes that will help him to understand body language and facial expressions. I hope this will help him, but I also hope and pray that people, especially women, will give him a chance.
Please tell women that if someone has made them uncomfortable, they should gently but firmly tell the person, “You are making me uncomfortable because I don’t know you that well.” My son would never hurt anyone, but these women ended up hurting him deeply.
— Heartbroken Again
Dear Heartbroken: Thank you for sharing your son’s story. Although I would never fault young women for removing themselves from situations that feel unsafe, it sounds as if these two women simply felt awkward. A little communication can go a long way in such cases. We should all be compassionate and keep in mind that we have no idea the struggles a stranger may be going through. I wish your son all the best.
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