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Autism and stalking: When to get an attorney involved

Stalking charges can often start with a simple misunderstanding -- particularly when someone with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is involved.

People with autism spectrum disorders often have trouble picking up on the ordinary social cues that other people take for granted. A polite smile, for example, can be mistaken by the person with an ASD for genuine romantic interest.

Because more people with an ASD are trying to integrate into regular social settings at high schools, colleges, universities and workplaces, they're coming into contact with others who aren't prepared for the level of obsessiveness that someone with an ASD can show toward any object or person that he or she has fixated on.

The fixation may be harmless and just an attempt by the person with the ASD to make friends. However, someone unfamiliar with autism spectrum disorders may be genuinely frightened by the obsessiveness, apparent refusal to obey social cues and the often flat emotional affect that someone with an ASD may have.

People with an ASD often simply don't realize that they are being obsessive or intrusive -- nor do they necessarily make the same mental associations that other people do. For example, someone with an ASD might buy a coworker a necklace that she openly admired -- which is a gift that's too extravagant for their social relationship -- thinking it will simply make the coworker happy. It may never occur to the person with an ASD that he or she could be seen as an overly persistent suitor or even "creepy" by the coworker.

Ideally, if you have a young adult child with an ASD, you can avoid serious legal problems by teaching him or her some necessary social skills that will help avoid the issue. For example, teaching him or her how to recognize boundaries, understand the language or social cues that indicate rejection and explaining what type of romantic behavior is acceptable can all help.

However, if the young adult with an ASD is either accused of stalking or questioned by the police regarding a stalking incident, it's wise to get an attorney to intercede. An attorney can often help diffuse the situation before formal stalking charges are even filed if you act quickly enough.

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