Criminal Justice

Anyone working as a criminal justice professional can come into contact with someone who has an autistic spectrum disorder, in particular:

  • police officers
  • solicitors and barristers
  • magistrates, justices of the peace, the judiciary and the courts

The vast majority of individuals with Asperger syndrome are respectful of the law, in fact most are very concerned to stick to rules and regulations as part of the nature of their condition. Therefore, commonly if a person with Asperger syndrome comes into contact with the police it’s usually because of issues related to social and communication difficulties or being misunderstood. A person with Asperger syndrome may behave differently if they are out of routine or in a strange place. They can become very distressed if they are suddenly surrounded by a lot of noise and can become easily confused by strange situations.

In some cases, the behaviour of someone with Asperger syndrome can be misinterpreted by law enforcement officers. For example:

  • They may exhibit behaviours that draw the attention of the police
  • A misinterpretation of those behaviours and characteristics may be taken as evidence of drug abuse, defiance, belligerence, or criminal behaviour or activity
  • Time to talk about Asperger syndrome with a professional
  • The person with may lack fear of real dangers
  • The person may not understand what is expected of them when interacting with police officers
  • The way in which they behave may misleadingly suggest indicators of guilt such as a lack of eye contact, an apparent aloof and indifferent manner, changing the topic of conversation
  • Sensory sensitivity issues may produce a fight or flight reaction – particularly in response to being touched
  • Basic verbal and nonverbal communication difficulties can lead to misunderstandings both ways
  • Un-addressed or a high tolerance for bullying, teasing, taunting and torment in school settings
  • Dilemmas in the interrogation room including possibility of false confession or misleading statements
  • High likelihood of victimization and the lack of credibility as a victim or witness

Some people with Asperger syndrome can become involved unwittingly in criminal activity; because of social difficulties they may be taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals.In a situation where a person with Asperger syndrome or any autistic spectrum disorder is taken into custody, it’s important that this is noted on his or her records straight away. They should then be given adequate support, be understood and properly represented. Hence it is very important that legal experts are familiar with Asperger syndrome and its complexities.

The National Autistic Society (NAS) has produced a range of information and training resources for criminal justice professionals and can organise bespoke training courses. For more information visit

Dennis Debbaudt Avoiding Unfortunate Situations. Available at