Mental Health Services

AuSM's highly trained, certified therapists have committed their careers to helping individuals with autism understand their diagnosis and address both the challenges and gifts that it can bring. 

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AuSM Mental Health Services 
Barbara L. Photo 
Sara Pahl, MS, BCaBA, NCC

Beth Pitchford, MA
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Ask The Therapist

Dear Beth,

My daughter is autistic and recently told me she has a new boyfriend. She is calling, texting, and on social media constantly with him but complains that she doesn't hear back from him. I'm concerned that she doesn't really have a new boyfriend and that she is actually harassing, or even stalking, this man. How do I know?
 -Teen Too Far

Dear Teen Too Far,
There can be a fine line between unbridled enthusiasm about a person, especially a new friend or relationship, and what others would see as stalking or harassment. The "honeymoon period" in new romantic relationships is known for intensity and it is common during this period for two people to want to spend all of their time together. The important difference between a honeymoon period and stalking is that in a honeymoon period, BOTH people really, really want to see each other.

Some questions to help figure out stalking vs. new reciprocal relationship

1.   Do both parties contact each other and invite each other for activities?

2. Who initiates contact?

3.  How long have they known each other?

4. Is it a socially appropriate relationship? Is there an unacceptable age difference? Is there potential for the person on the spectrum to be taken advantage of?

5. Are they giving gifts that seem to be "too big, too soon"?

Your daughter may not understand the unwritten social expectations of making a new friend (especially if she's sexually attracted to him). There is a relationship progression that is typically followed: acquaintances may become friends, those friends may become really good friends or best friends, and sometimes those relationships become intimate, romantic relationships. With online dating, a few steps might be skipped but there is still an expectation of a type of progression: getting to know someone, seeing if there's "chemistry, and meeting in person several times before becoming an exclusive relationship.

We find that often our loved ones get taken advantage of by others who are attracted to their great desire to connect and have relationships but who aren't as socially savvy to spot if they're being played. Our role is to help with perspective taking and to make observations to point out those hidden, elusive social rules.
It can be hard to accept rejection and it can be even harder to accept and recognize subtle rejection. I frequently see difficulty understanding the "Minnesota No;" if someone doesn't reply to any of your communications that's a good sign that they don't want to communicate with you. Here in Minnesota we also tend to tell people that their behavior is "okay" when we don't want to hurt their feelings. Our literal thinkers then hear that they're not doing anything wrong because they person told them so when, in fact, the other person is at that moment filing a restraining order. Explaining the communication style here in Minnesota is crucial for helping your daughter understand that she might actually be experiencing a passive rejection.
What to do?
Teaching expected behavior for relationships is critical for understanding the nuances of social relationships. There are books, blogs, and articles about dating for people on the spectrum - Decoding Dating: A Guide to the Unwritten Social Rules of Dating for Men With Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder). But you don't have to depend on buying a book to be a mentor. Teaching the boundaries circle and the Relationship Progression (and how it aligns with the conversational progression) can be helpful as well as, again, coaching how to think of other people's perspective and understanding that others see things in a different way (regardless of spectrum or not!).
Reiterate to your daughter that her safety and happiness is your goal. If she is stalking, she could get in trouble with the police and even end up with a criminal history which could impact her ability to volunteer places and getting hired.
Beth Pitchford, MA
Autism Society of Minnesota
The AuSM Mental Health Services Team offers therapy and support:
  • Diagnostic, functional or behavioral assessments for children, adolescents, and adults
  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Developmental therapy
  • Behavior consultation
  • Marriage and couples therapy
  • Training for organizations and service providers
To inquire about our services or to make an appointment please contact AuSM at 651.647.1083 or e-mail 
Established in 1971, the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM) is a self-funded organization committed to education, advocacy and support designed to enhance the lives of those affected by autism from birth through retirement.