The first and most important thing to do is to not speak to law enforcement without an attorney if your autistic child is accused of a sex crime. Prior to an interview with law enforcement an attorney experienced in handling the issues related to ASD should be consulted and retained. This is critical. The initial interview can make or break the defense in a case, and no interview should be undertaken without the assistance of a lawyer.
Parents of autistic children face a variety of challenges. Many are easily overcome, but unfortunately, when the legal system becomes involved, these challenges can create a lifetime of problems. What do you need to know if your autistic child is accused of committing a crime, especially one that is sexual in nature?
People on the Spectrum Face a Higher Risk of Misreading Signals
It’s a commonly accepted myth that people with autism do not want intimate friendships and relationships. An autism diagnosis does not render someone asexual or unemotional without a need for intimacy. The truth is, many autistic people crave closeness, but they struggle to foster it in relationships.
What makes their desire for closeness challenging is that some people with autism struggle to interpret communication signals accurately. This can be a problem for anyone, but it’s especially challenging for people with autism.
In most cases, this leads to nothing more than simple misunderstandings, resolved with a bit of patience and clarification. But in some cases, misreading a communication signal can cause someone to act inappropriately. This is the case for many first-time sex offenders on the spectrum. They interpret things that other people say and do incorrectly, leading them to do unexpected or inappropriate things.
This also leads to the misunderstanding of things people on the spectrum say and do. Something that seems appropriate to someone with autism might be misunderstood by the person with whom they are interacting.
People on the Spectrum Might Not Understand that Some Sexual Content is Illegal
It’s no secret that the legal system is complex. Even the brightest person can misunderstand a law if they have not spent years studying and applying it.
Sometimes, people with autism do not understand the law they are accused of breaking. They might have a “social age” that is much younger than their chronological age. They look like an adult, but they function as a child. This can lead to them interacting with people younger than them without realizing they are violating that person.
People on the Spectrum Don’t Always Receive Appropriate Sexual Education
Adding to the challenges faced by people who struggle to interpret communication cues is the fact that many people on the spectrum do not receive the same sexual education as others. Some well-meaning families shelter their autistic loved ones. They believe this protects them and ensures they don’t struggle to process the information provided to them.
Lacking the basic sexual education most people receive in early adolescence in school and through other means, people on the spectrum struggle to make educated choices about their actions.
Consequences of Accusations of a Sex Crime When Someone is on the Spectrum are Devastating
There are numerous cases of autistic individuals becoming embroiled in the criminal justice system because of their sexual behavior. Some find themselves in legal trouble for viewing or collecting child pornography. Others face charges of stalking, masturbating in public, harassment, or sexual assault. Some are serving prison sentences and nearly all accused of sexual misconduct become registered sex offenders. And unfortunately, their status as sex offenders prevents them from receiving state services and finding jobs for the rest of their lives.
Accusations of a sex crime when someone your child is on the spectrum creates a wide array of problems. Many are life-long problems. A conviction can lead to jail time, loss of access to support programs, and all of the challenges faced by anyone in this position, but magnified a great deal. If you or a loved one is on the autism spectrum and is facing sex crimes charges, you must contact an attorney who understands the unique challenges faced by autistic individuals.
For more information or to speak to someone if your autistic child is accused of a sex crime, contact David Lindsey.