News & Politics

Lawyer: Students With Asperger’s ‘Left in the Dark’ by Leaked Title IX Regulations

Lawyer: Students With Asperger’s ‘Left in the Dark’ by Leaked Title IX Regulations
Betsy DeVos Betsy DeVos Confirmation Hearing, Washington DC, USA - 17 Jan 2017. (Rex Features via AP Images)

Despite op-eds praising the recently leaked Title IX regulations, one lawyer who counsels students with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism is worried that the new regulations may do “absolutely nothing” to help these students.

Lori Tucker — an attorney and proud mother of an autistic son — started her career as a K-12 lawyer. She shifted to university Title IX during the Obama era, and has since helped numerous students on the autism spectrum navigate Title IX issues.

“My concern with these newly leaked regulations … 152 drafted pages …. in its entirety, there’s only one paragraph on page 69 for ‘Individuals With Disabilities,’” she told PJ Media during a Wednesday interview.

That single paragraph simply invites more comment from the public on “whether the proposed [new Title IX regulations] adequately take into account the needs of students and employees with disabilities.”

The OCR also “requests consideration of the different experiences, challenges and needs of students with disabilities … in postsecondary institutions related to sexual harassment,” the draft guidelines added.

For Tucker, this invitation for public comment is telling, but not for the reasons one might suspect. Tucker says she actually had a private meeting with the OCR’s Candice Jackson in the summer of 2017 about this issue, which she thought went well.

But not long after the meeting, Tucker claims Jackson dropped off all communication regarding students with Asperger’s and autism. Meanwhile, Jackson continued to actively engage with other Title IX activist groups.

Tucker says she couldn’t speculate as to why Jackson stopped responding to her, but admits that disability rights is not a “glamorous” cause. She also admits that perhaps Jackson was too busy. Reached through the OCR, Jackson did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PJ Media.

But with all the op-eds about how the OCR under Betsy DeVos will “save our sons” and “end the kangaroo courts,” Tucker urges parents of kids with Asperger’s and autism to be alert.

“Obviously any strengthening of due process is a good thing, not just for conservatives or Republicans but for everyone. Everyone should be happy, because it makes for a stronger process and a better outcome for both sides,” said Tucker.

“But that being said, again, these students with Asperger’s or autism, there’s nothing in the drafted OCR guidelines [as of now] that is going to address your students’ unique needs and issues,” she added.

University of New Mexico professor Geoffrey Miller said there are numerous ways students with Asperger’s might be ensnared by Title IX.

“For example, an Aspie on a date might feel shy, avoid eye contact and body contact, and be too nervous to make good small talk, but then get up their nerve to suddenly go in for a kiss,” he told PJ Media.

“This might provoke a negative reaction and qualify as ‘unwanted physical contact,’ but if the Aspie can’t read nonverbal cues and has poor social skills, they have no idea whether the kiss attempt was ‘unwanted,’” added Miller.

This awkward attempt at romance could easily land a young man with Asperger’s into the Title IX office. But other behaviours typical to Asperger’s — such as misreading romantic cues — also could cause problems.

For example, if a male student with Asperger’s wants to go on a date, he may text or call a girl repeatedly asking to hang out. If she’s not interested, she might ignore him, or say that she’s “too busy.”

But a student with Asperger’s may be unable to sense the subtext. He might even show up at her dorm. Then, he could be accused of sexual harassment or stalking, pulled into a Title IX investigation, and end up with a black mark on his transcript.

(All that due to misread social cues.)

Image via Shutterstock, a young boy/teen with Autism looks out the window in frustration.

Due to this, advocates like Tucker urge the OCR to add additional regulations with an eye towards students on the spectrum. And going forward, Tucker warns parents and students to be alert.

“If an accusation arises, do not try to handle it on your own,” Tucker urges students.

KC Johnson — co-author of “The Campus Rape Frenzy” — told PJ Media that the leaked regulations are “subject to change” before they are formally released. Then, they’ll undergo a public comment period, and may be subject to further change.

That could take months, if not another year or two.

And regardless of whether the final regulations explicitly address the needs of students with Asperger’s and autism or not, Johnson believes they’ll be met with much pushback.

“Colleges will ferociously resist them,” suggested Johnson.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen.