All criminal justice professionals may come into contact with people on the autism spectrum, many of whom may be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Here you will find information about autistic people, tips for initial police contactinterviews and court appearances, ways that parents and carers can help, and where to find further information and training.

Why might autistic people become involved in the CJS?

Autistic people are more likely to be victims and witnesses of crime than offenders. They experience difficulties with social communication, social interaction and social imagination. They may have sensory difficulties and some coordination problems. Their behaviour may appear odd and can sometimes draw unnecessary attention, but in general autism is a hidden disability and it may not be immediately obvious to other people that the person has a disability.

When autistic people commit offences, it may be for the following reasons. 

  • Social naivety. The desire to have friends has led some autistic people to be befriended by criminals, and become their unwitting accomplices. People on the autism spectrum often do not understand other people’s motives.
  • Difficulty with change or unexpected events. An unexpected change in the environment or routine, eg a public transport delay, may cause great anxiety and distress, leading to aggressive behaviour.
  • Misunderstanding of social cues. For example, many autistic people have difficulties with eye contact, which may be avoided, fleeting, prolonged or inappropriate. This may be interpreted as making unwanted sexual advances.
  • Rigid adherence to rules. They may become extremely agitated if other people break these rules. For example, an autistic man was known to kick cars that were parked illegally.
  • Not understanding the implications of their behaviour. Due to difficulties with social imagination, an autistic person might not learn from past experience. They may repeatedly offend if not offered the correct support and intervention.