Autism Citizen is a relatively new organization, but our leadership is well ahead of the curve and doing something about it! It wasn’t hard to predict that with the rapid increase in the number of boys up to 21 years of age being diagnosed with autism, there would be a consequential and natural increase in the number of court cases.
The article linked HERE clearly shows that minors with autism are getting caught up in the legal system, which isn’t prepared to deal with them. While the autistic are no more inclined to crime than the rest of the population, they are more often the victims of crimes, and often duped into participating in crimes they don’t understand.
Essentially, the article states that a recent study shows that autistic youths in Pennsylvania are getting caught up in the legal system far more often than before. We believe this is a growing trend, and that our legal systems are ill-prepared to deal with this trend. The study’s numbers validate this, showing that in the juvenile courts, the number of cases increased from 659 in 2005 to 1423.4 in 2011. We believe the number of cases in the regular courts are seeing comparable increases in cases involving autistic persons.
This rapid increase is by no means limited to Pennsylvania, but is a national trend and a serious issue for courts in every state and municipality. Often unable to comprehend or respond to things said to them, these youths are all too often mistreated and denied the civil liberties and rights afforded to others who are not on the autism spectrum.
When an autistic person goes to court, they are not provided or accorded the same respect as those with other conditions, such as deafness. No counselor is provided, nor any help made available. Some who have special needs dogs are denied having their dogs with them, though if they were blind, a seeing-eye dog would be permitted. And it doesn’t matter why the person is in court – be they a witness, victim of a crime or for criminal or civil cases.
More disconcerting is the fact that the attorneys who may represent them; the judges who’ll pass judgment or sentence; the prosecutors who’ll manage the case; and public defenders — all have no training to deal with autism. As a result, the autistic are rarely understood in courtrooms, and their behavior is usually misinterpreted as something different. Equally bad, they cannot find attorneys who understand the condition or the common traits of autistic behavior.
For example, an innocent autistic young man may divert his eyes and refuse to make eye contact with the jury. The judge fails to explain this to them, and the prosecutor says he’s hiding the truth. As a result, he could be wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit, for that, and his slow, deliberate answers in cross-examination.
Lee Atwater, the famous political consultant once said “Perception is reality.” Unfortunately, the prejudices people have about autism filter into the courtroom, and thus people’s perceptions of an autistic person become their reality, whether true or not, resulting in harm to all too many autistic citizens going through our courts.
The misunderstanding of autism leads to miscarriages of justice; to ineffective assistance of counsel; and to a lack of equality in judicial decisions. The only cure for this situation is education of the legal community.
Autism Citizen, Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)(3) charity created to advocate for the autistic, including legal matters, through education of those in the courts, business, government and the professions.