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Lack of research on link between autism and stalking as only five studies to date published – University of Reading

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Lack of research on link between autism and stalking as only five studies to date published

Release Date 16 June 2020

Research books and papers in a library

More empirical evidence needed to inform social education around ASD and relationships


Individuals with autism are not getting enough research-led guidance to help them understand the limits of appropriate socio-sexual relationships, according to a new study.

In a paper published in the Journal of Criminal Psychology, a student from the University of Reading has teamed up with noted Autism and Forensic Psychology academic Dr Clare Allely to review existing literature on the link between autism spectrum disorder and stalking.

The review found that only five papers that investigate the link between autism spectrum disorders and stalking have been published between 2004 and 2020, regardless of the quality of the studies.

Dr Allely and Johanna Mercer, a third year MSci Applied (Clinical) Psychology student at the University of Reading found that only one study carried out empirical research into relationship behaviours and the learning sources for individuals with ASD. In the 2007 paper, the authors revealed that individuals with ASD had not received any learning of romantic skills.

Johanna Mercer, who led the study said:

“The paper looks at previous studies which have explored stalking behaviour in individuals with ASD, which there are little of, in order to establish a better understanding of the link between the two. The paper also highlights some interventions which could be implemented to help support ASD individuals in various settings, such as in the workplace and school. 

“The clear issue that this paper highlights is that there is a lack of research into the relationship between stalking and autism but additionally that there is a lack of awareness in common social interaction behaviours in ASD individuals, which can result in such individuals being perceived as inappropriate.

“The one empirical study that our review came up with reported that individuals with ASD had not received any formal or informal education about romantic feelings and pursuing relationships, which could be a great contributor into ASD individuals behaving as they do.

“There is already a multitude of studies looking at the wider link between ASD and sexual offending, but this paper shows that not enough attention has been paid to some of the ways that ASD might lead to stalking behaviour and how this can be avoided - through increasing awareness of ASD behaviours in non-ASD individuals and increasing education on correct behaviours for ASD individuals.”

Alongside the 2007 study, Mercer and Dr Allely found two discussion papers published in 2014 which provide an overview of stalking behaviour in individuals with ASD in an educational setting and in a workplace setting variously. Both studies discuss issues regarding a lack of research into the subject, and some preventative measures to avoid stalking behaviour.

The study also identified one case study that explored the impact of ASD on an individual’s stalking behaviour, although the authors noted that the particular case described an individual with other complex mental ill health; and a letter published in the Journal Autism calling for further research to be carried out into the complex relationship between stalking and ASD.

Full citation:

Mercer, J.E., and Allely, C.S., 2020, Autism spectrum disorders and stalking. Journal of Criminal Psychology. ISSN: 2009-3829, https://doi.org/10.1108/JCP-01-2020-0003

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