Barry Yeoman considers what happens when two progressive imperatives — protecting the rights of people with disabilities, and ensuring that no one experiences harassment in schools or workplaces — appear to be at odds. If you’re looking for tidy narratives or easy answers, this isn’t the story for you. For moral complexity, read on:
Conflicts also arise for students with autism, who are entering higher education in greater numbers than ever, in part because of better K-12 support services. Autistic students sometimes have difficulty reading social cues and thus engage in behaviors that, to their neurotypical classmates, resemble stalking. In college, the support services that earlier might have intervened are gone.
“You take a kid who’s had a life jacket on, and that’s how they’ve been swimming for years, and then you put them into a different pool, take off the life jacket, and say ‘Good luck,’” said Lee Burdette Williams, the executive director of the nonprofit College Autism Network. “And they just plunge to the floor of the pool. And one of the ways that happens is around their social interactions.”
The object of an autistic student’s attention might file a stalking complaint under Title IX, the federal education law barring sex discrimination. “And then you have [campus officials] swooping in to say, ‘That’s not allowed here, and now I’m going to have to sanction you,’” Burdette said. “And here’s the kid, furiously trying to stay above water.”