Autism (including Asperger syndrome) is a serious lifelong, disabling condition affecting social behaviour and communication. Over half a million people in the UK are autistic – that's 1 in 100.
The vast majority of individuals on the autism spectrum are law abiding and respect the rules of society. Indeed, in many cases, autistic individuals are unusually concerned to keep the letter of the law, due to the nature of the disability.
On occasions when an autistic person comes to the attention of the police and other services it is normally a result of their social and communication difficulties being misunderstood and because they are not given appropriate support.
For example, a person's behaviour may be influenced by a sudden change to the routines he or she is used to or by a misunderstanding of social cues. Autistic people can become extremely distressed in situations that they do not understand or when they are surrounded by noise and confusion. In such circumstances, their actions and behaviour can easily be misinterpreted and subsequent actions may escalate the situation.
Some autistic people may also be more vulnerable to criminal acts against them because of their social difficulties and they may be taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals or become unwitting accomplices to criminal activity. Appropriate support needs to be in place in order that victims are understood and appropriately represented.
In addition, once an autistic person is in the criminal justice system, the nature of their difficulties may not be recognised or may be misunderstood. In these circumstances it is possible for miscarriages of justice to occur and it is therefore vital that legal experts are familiar with autism and its complexities.
We are the leading charity working with people affected by autism and have produced a range of information and training resources for criminal justice professionals and can organise bespoke training courses. For more information visit www.autism.org.uk/cjp
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