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asperger's syndrome information and features


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There is no evidence of an association between autism and criminal offending. If anything, autistic people tend to rigidly follow rules and regulations, so are usually more law abiding than the general population.  People with autism are far more likely to be victims of crime than offenders.

Despite this there seems to be a relatively high profile connection between autism and law breaking in the media.

Autistic spectrum conditions are not rare... there are over half a million people on the spectrum in the UK, and just like among the neurotypical population some will get in to trouble for a wide variety of reasons. When someone with autism does commit a crime there is a lot of attention drawn to the fact, or even the possibility, that they might be autistic, and in some cases the possibility that there might be a lighter sentence passed down because someone is autistic is debated.

Autism is not an excuse for criminal behaviour and is not considered to be by the criminal justice system or by the autistic community. It may be an explanation for certain, otherwise misunderstood, aspects of a persons behaviour though, and it makes sense that it should be taken in to account when relevant, just as anybody else's motivations would be, so they can be dealt with fairly and appropriately. That does not necessarily mean a lighter sentence.

So in what context might autism be considered a factor? The NAS website suggests some of the following:

  • Offences relating to social naivety. For example, becoming unwitting accomplices of criminals. People with autism often do not understand the motives of other people.

  • Offences of an aggressive nature, which may be related to an unexpected change in routine or to the environment which could cause great anxiety and distress.

  • Offences relating to a misunderstanding of social cues.

  • Offences relating to obsessional interests. For example the man with autism who drove off a steam engine due to an obsession with trains.

  • People with autism often adhere rigidly to rules and may become extremely agitated if other people break these rules, for example a man with autism who would kick cars that were parked illegally.

  • People with autism sometimes do not understand the implications of their behaviour and due to their difficulties with social imagination might not learn from past experience. This could lead to repeat offending without the correct support and intervention.

However, the autistic spectrum is very diverse, and while some people may encounter these sorts of problems there will be many thousands who do not and are no more likely to break the law than anyone else.

In fact it would be possible to make a similar list of potential offences for neurotypical (non autistic) people:

  • Offences relating to status. For example, steeling money to 'keep up with the Jones'.

  • Offences relating to image / reputation. For example, Indulging in criminal behaviour to prove yourself to peers.

  • Offences of an aggressive nature, which are often related to excessive drinking while socialising.

  • Neurotypical people often fail to take rules seriously and may even get a kick out of breaking them. For example, parking illegally, breaking the speed limit etc.

The prisons, after all, are full of neurotypical people.

Sadly though, some may also have more than their fair share of people on the autistic spectrum, but probably for the wrong reasons. Studies of patients in the high security hospitals Broadmoor, Rampton, and Ashworth found that up to 5.3% of the inmates had an autism like disorder, more than five times higher than the occurrence among the rest of the population. Many are there because they were misdiagnosed with schizophrenia, (a common occurrence at least up until the mid 90's). Because they do not have schizophrenia they do not appear to recover or respond to treatment so are kept in for longer. In some cases the inappropriate treatment may even have the been the cause of the behaviour that put them there. For example, Piers Bolduc was incarcerated after giving someone a flesh wound  with a penknife while on powerful drugs for schizophrenia that he should never have been prescribed. His was a high profile case because it was taken up by the media until he was eventually released, but not until after many years of unnecessary suffering and injustice.

People on the autistic spectrum are no better or worse than anybody else in the general population, we are just different... Our motivations are different, our reactions are different, and the challenges we face in life are different.

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