How Does the Law Protect People with Autism?

David Lindsey, Attorney at Law
How Does the Law Protect People with Autism?
Is your child on the spectrum and been accused of a crime? Children with autism benefit from a variety of different laws created to protect them. Your child’s diagnosis also plays a role in his or her defense. How does the law protect people with autism?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is Autism?

The medical community has a better understanding of autism now than it ever has. But to many people, it’s still a mystery. This misunderstanding often leads to issues in school, work, and other places.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It impairs social development and results in communication challenges. Many autistic people engage in repetitive behavior.

The term “autistic” covers a variety of issues, including other disorders, such as pervasive development disorder and Asperger’s syndrome. An autistic person can be very highly intelligent, but they might also have moderate or low intelligence.

What Happens When Autism Plays a Role in a Crime?

There are many laws in place that protect people on the autism spectrum. Many of these laws prevent schools from limiting the movement or secluding people with autism. Low-functioning people diagnosed with autism might qualify for Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance.

But what happens if a person’s autism plays a role in their being accused of committing a crime?

Is it possible to use an autism diagnosis as a defense against criminal charges?

The simplest answer is “maybe.”

Developmental Disabilities and the Court System

Developmental disability is rarely a successful defense. To use it, there should be a mental health evaluation. This ensures that a defendant has at least one professional opinion to back up their claim.

However, even with an evaluation, these are complicated defenses. Mental health is not an exact science. There are many varying opinions on mental health issues, including autism. Human behavior is complicated. Opinions vary based on the information the medical community has regarding autism.

Additionally, the justice system is based on people having a rational understanding of the system and making voluntary choices. People with intellectual disabilities might not understand legal proceedings and might be incapable of making well-reasoned choices.

Finally, the justice system doesn’t have a great track record of dealing with cases in which a defendant has a developmental disability. Case law is inconsistent and for many, successfully arguing a case results in the defendant dealing with a worse fate than had they not used a defense based on autism.

This doesn’t mean people on the spectrum accused of a crime have no hope. A person’s ability to understand the effect of his or her actions is an important part of a legal defense. But claiming someone is not responsible for their behavior solely based on having autism is not as black-and-white as it seems.

How Does the Law Protect People with Autism?

If you or your child has been accused of a crime and autism is a factor, I can help. I’ve worked with clients on the spectrum and I understand the complexities of building a successful defense. If you’d like to discuss your situation or you need an experienced attorney to help you with your circumstances, contact David Lindsey to schedule a free consultation.

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