ASD and Juvenile Justice Training for Judges, Magistrates and Probation Officers

Friday, May 13, 2016: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
T. Hughes, Counseling, Psychology and Special Education, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA

Due to the unique social and communication challenges, individuals with ASD can also be at risk of committing socially inappropriate actions that reach the level of illegal, offending behaviors. For example, the social deficits associated with autism may impact psychosexual development to a degree where inappropriate pursuits, interests or touching may result in an act that is unlawful. Further, communication deficits may also impact expressed anger to a degree where violent and aggressive behaviors rather than more appropriate verbal exchanges result. Relatedly, emotion dysregulation, executive function deficits as well as co-occurring psychiatric symptoms may also be related to the probability of individuals with ASD committing illegal acts (Newman & Ghaziuddin, 2008). Indeed, researchers have found, the number of individuals with ASD who are classified as offenders in the criminal system is more than expected (Haskins & Silva, 2006). One state facility, open to housing offenders with complex comorbid diagnosis, found among 37 adolescents adjudicated delinquent for sexual offenses, 22 (or 60%) met the diagnostic criteria for an ASD (Sutton, et.al., 2013).  


While the acts themselves may be unlawful, the intent driving the act may not be similar to antisocial attitudes commonly found in offender populations. That is, social deficits (associated with a developmental delay) rather than social maladjustment (associated with psychopathy characteristics such as callous and unemotional traits where behavior is controlled) may distinguish these groups. Indeed, “counterfeit deviance” as described by Hingsburger, Griffiths and Quinsey in 1991 highlights how behaviors that are the result of a pervasive lack of social skills, a core naïveté, or a lack of accurate knowledge are not deviant behaviors per se. Thus, a primary aim of this presentation is to inform relevant juvenile justice personnel about the treatment needs for juveniles with ASD who are adjudicated.

Objectives:  This presentation shows a training program for judges, magistrates, and probation officers that is designed to meet the community safety priorities of those offices while advocating for appropriate deterrent programing. A video case of probation officer working with an adolescent with ASD highlights the challenges unknown to many professionals.

Methods:  Pre-post training data for 49 probation officers with one to thirty-five years of experience show statistically significant increase in their knowledge across all groups a) probation officers with autism experience, b) probation officers without autism experience, c) probation officers with previous autism training and d) probation officers without previous autism training

Results:  Discussion about how to approach training for various juvenile justice personnel is provided.  Coordinating professional development across all relevant parties from police contact, through probation and the adjudication process in the context is considered.

Conclusions:  Meeting the needs of individuals with ASD who are in contact with the juvenile justice system requires training for key decision makers. Trainings must identify relevant leverage points useful for selecting intervention protocols tailored to meet the needs of individuals with autism.