Autism & Law Enforcement

See also:    Darius McCollum Case    Legal Rights   

Internet Resources

The presence of autism and AS raises so many possibilities of miscommunication, misinformation, and an inadequate defense that the imposition of the death penalty creates an unacceptable risk of a miscarriage of justice.
Autism, Asperger's Syndrome Independent Living Association
Cunningham "never had a history of violence but was sensitive to people touching him," said Moss, who also is executive director of United Cerebral Palsy of Illinois. "The force likely caused more agitation to Hansel. It's common for people with autism to be sensitive to sounds, to bright lights, to touch. "This type of force was not needed, the action was not necessary. The restraint was not protocol. Apparently the police were aware it was a home for autistic adults. But perhaps the police weren't framed or trained in less violent techniques."
Chicago Tribune
The article reviews the diagnosis and assessment of Asperger syndrome and its links with a wide range of psychiatric issues, including mental disorder, offending and mental capacity.
T.P. Berney, Advances in Psychiatric Treatment
At a security checkpoint (signs) might include words that cite the laws or warn against the use of the words "bomb threat" or "hijacking." Someone who repeats this phrase would quickly come under suspicion at a security checkpoint.
Dennis Debbault
There is a need for greater awareness throughout the criminal justice system to ensure fair treatment of both victims and perpetrators of crime for people with autism.
Fiona Loynes
Works with advocacy groups, law enforcement, schools and professionals who are taking a proactive approach in training to ensure that interactions with individuals with autism are less stressful and dangerous.
Dennis Debbaudt
Recognize, Pause, and Observe
Gerald Hasselbrink
A Newport News Police Officers says his autistic children have helped to make him a better police officer.Helsel says he finds himself using some of his parenting skills on the street. A recent example is when a man was walking in the center of Jefferson Avenue during rush hour traffic. Another officer though the man had been drinking, but Helsel says he spotted something very familiar. "And i realized some of these things are some of the things my son Christopher does on a daily basis with me. The bear hugs everytime I get up. When Christopher gets frustrated about something, sometimes he'll put me in a bear hug and I think that's his way of saying hey something is wrong. Help me." Helsel says he knew how to speak to the man, and reassure him he would not hurt him. He says he wonders how he would have reacted, if he did not have two autistic children at home.
Often, autistic individuals can exhibit behaviors that could prompt an untrained emergency worker to conclude the person is drunk or purposely hostile... (they) may be unable to communicate... may fail to follow commands, or may make odd hand gestures.
John Laidler, Boston Globe
Autistics in the legal system must be handled differently than the non-impaired person. This site gives advice on handling the Autistic in a law enforcement situation.
Dennis Debbaudt
Basic information about autism. Warns of unusual behaviors and assures that no harm is intended. Designed to be printed out on 8 1/2 x 11 paper (landscape setting) and cut into 3 strips that fold into business-card size for carrying in the pocket.
Gerald Hasselbrink
When a child or adolescent with an ASD has contact with the criminal justice system, measures will need to be taken to avoid misinterpreting behaviors and characteristics typical of those with autism, as evidence of guilt, indifference or lack of remorse.
Dennis Debauldt
Law enforcement officers should receive training to prepare to evaluate information and physical cues or body language that may indicate the person they come in contact with has autism.
Dennis Debbaudt, Darla Rothman
Schools, police and others in authority need to understand more about Autism and especially about the behaviors that are characteristic of it. They need to learn that there are better ways of dealing with an Autistic child than reacting with force.
Adelle Jameson Tilton
Rates of violence and abuse perpetrated on people with developmental disabilities (e.g., mental retardation, autism) appear significantly higher than for people without these disabilities. Few of these crimes get reported to police, and even fewer are prosecuted because officials hesitate to pursue cases that rely on the testimony of a person with a developmental disability. The author offers several conceptual models to explain their differential victimization risk, including routine activities theory, dependency-stress model, cultural stereotyping, and victim-learned compliance. This article summarizes the research evidence on crimes against children and adults with developmental disabilities. It is divided into four sections. The first section describes the nature and extent of crimes against individuals with developmental disabilities. The second reviews the literature on risk factors associated with their victimization. The third discusses the manner in which justice agencies respond to these crimes. The final section enumerates what research and policy initiatives might address the problem.
Joan R. Petersilia
When individuals with autism are detained by police or otherwise confronted by the criminal justice system it is often because their actions are misunderstood, e.g., may appear to be a danger to themselves or others.
A lovelorn computer hacker launched an attack on America's busiest port in a bid to seek revenge on a fellow chatroom user. He told officers he was being exploited by other hackers who launched the attack and planted evidence in his hard drive.
Basic information about a person with autism to distribute to neighbors, especially when the person with autism may wander into adjoining yards. For awareness and reassurance that the person is not a criminal and does not intend harm
Gerald Hasselbrink
Question and answer format for those in law enforcement who may contact Autistic/PDD citizens.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that says you should not be treated differently because you have a disability. But, if you get arrested, you may need to be helped differently.
They are perceived by many in society as out of control and the potential exists that their actions may result in actions and reactions by the police or others which are based on invalid assumptions of the risk they present to society.
Floyd Tilton
It is the mission of L.E.A.N. On Us to provide first responders with information and resources that will allow them to better serve individuals within their communities affected by hidden disabilities and mental illness.
Children, young people and adults with learning disabilities and/or ASD could find themselves on the 'borderline' not just in terms of the ways in which their capacities and abilities are defined, but in policy and service terms
A Washington Post article on how police plan to profile suspected or potential terrorists (or autistics) and shoot them in the head to stop them from carrying out a suspected or potential bombing. The description is eerily like that of an autistic adult. Who's to say whether a suspect is mumbling the lines from a Monty Python skit or a prayer? You know these people, they are the oddballs, some of them never dress "right" or carry the "right" stuff. They are disorganized, don't walk right or have the right posture and they talk to themselves.
Autism Diva
Autists, unlike psychopaths, do adhere to rules, distinguish between merely convential and moral rules, experience feelings of guilt and have a strong sense of justice.
Anne Ruth Mackor
This article analyzes theoretically the relationship between complex developmental disorders and delinquency with the hypothesis that the delinquent behaviors reported in it resulted from comorbid psychopathology and not as a direct consequence of a developmental disorder. A small series of patients diagnosed with a PDD and comorbid psychiatric illnesses whose admission to the hospital was precipitated by delinquent behavior is presented.
Mark T. Palermo
So it seems that I and others like me could be demoted even further. It's bad enough that we're seen as 'wandering' whenever we leave the house, and that people call the police all the time because of how we look, but claim they're 'protecting' us. And that too many police officers shoot they view as "unresponsive" and "dangerous" at the same time. Now, it seems, we may be viewed as potential terrorists, and the kind that it is considered perfectly okay to shoot and kill on sight.
Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social behaviors and parent-child interaction. It has been associated with an increased risk of social victimization, and a recent rise in number of acts of filicide of developmentally disabled children has included several cases of autism. In this article, possible risk factors for filicidal behavior in families with autistic children and prevention strategies are reviewed.
Mark T. Palermo
What to do if your charge: wanders away; doesn't fear danger; is upset by new situations; makes public outbursts; can't I.D. self or explain what's wrong; has dangerous obsessions; is a crime victim or a crime suspect.
South Carolina Autism Society
Use simple language; speak slowly and clearly; Use concrete terms and ideas; Repeat simple questions; allowing time for a response; Proceed slowly and give praise and encouragement; Do not attempt to physically stop self-stimulating behavior...
Women with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities are among the most vulnerable members of our society, experiencing a far higher rate of sexual assault and rape than other women, and experiencing this victimization repeatedly.
Marc Dubin
Give only one command or direction at a time; repeat or rephrase; be patient; speak slowly, in a non threatening manner; ask the person to repeat their rights back to you; it may be necessary to listen for a long time before important facts emerge.
Many hackers have noticed that mainstream culture has shown a tendency to pathologise and medicalise normal variations in personality, especially those variations that make life more complicated for authority figures and conformists.
Christian Fotinger
Many of the assumptions of the criminal process focus on 'normal' NT behaviour. This generally is not a problem, but there are times when police and court efficiency conflicts with the reality of normal behaviour of autistics.
Stan P.
I know he does not feel crazy. A prosecution psychiatrist examined him to see whether he was competent to stand trial. Durst thought it must just be a ploy. No jury would think he was insane because he was obviously competent.
Julie Baumgold, Daily News (NY)
So if you look like an autistic or like you have any other of a range of mental differences (or as fledchen pointed out, diabetic), you're pretty much safer not going out in public anymore. Maybe it's about time those of us in large cities start wearing "Don't Shoot, I'm Autistic" shirts? Might as well brand numbers on our arm while we're at it...

Opinions expressed by the authors of pages to which this site links do not necessarily reflect this site developer's opinions. In other words: Sublime or ridiculous? You decide!
Copyright © 2004-2008, Kathleen Seidel. All rights reserved.
This page was last updated on 5 November 2008, 3:48 pm
Hosted by TextDrive