People With Autism Wrongly Believed to Lack Credibility
Autistic adults may be wrongly perceived as deceptive and lacking credibility. This may work against them if they encounter the legal system. A paper in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders examined the phenomenon.

Understanding Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by certain behaviors such as lack of social skills, repetitive behaviors, and challenges with speech and non-verbal communication. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in fifty nine children is on the spectrum. The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for more intervention services and broader actions to make environments more accessible for individuals with ASD.

The Study

Researchers in the article asked 1,410 civilians to view a video with 30 adults with autism spectrum disorder and 29 adults without the disorder. The study examined whether stereotypical behaviors associated with autism influenced people’s perceptions. Common behaviors that were found included gaze aversion, poor reciprocity, repetitive body movements, and literal interpretations of figurative language. Unfortunately, many of these behaviors are believed to be displayed by individuals who are being deceptive. They are also common traits in individuals with ASD.

These behaviors can be a distinct disadvantage to individuals with ASD if they encounter the criminal justice system. Consultants work with judges and juries to educate them about ASD so that an autistic person’s presentation will not be wrongly interpreted. Unfortunately, statistics suggest that sentences for individuals with ASD are on average higher than their non-autistic peers.

Broader education of members of the legal community is the key to preventing the misconception that individuals with ASD are deceptive. Individuals with ASD display behaviors that indicate deceptiveness to some but should not be punished for their condition. It is often up to advocates for individuals with ASD to establish that ASD behaviors should not be interpreted as signs of a lack of credibility.

In addition, there are unfortunately many individuals with ASD who have not received a proper diagnosis or the support they need. Early screening is the key to identifying individuals with ASD. There should also be programs within the criminal justice system that can make determinations about whether an individual may have the disorder.

If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental disabilities. To schedule a consultation, call (509) 991-7058.
Representing People with Autism Spectrum Disorders 

The reason for compiling the expert opinions in Representing People with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers is two-fold: first, there is a growing recognition that people with ASD are involved in the criminal justice system and need vigorous, informed advocacy; and two, that there is a need for practical, easily digestible information for lawyers.
If you are a criminal defense lawyer, it is inevitable that you are going to represent someone on the Autism Spectrum. Indeed, the Center for Disease Control estimates that one in 59 children are on the spectrum. And because Autism is a lifelong condition, these children will become adults on the spectrum.

But what is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), how will you recognize it in a client, why is it relevant to the criminal justice system, and why do people with ASD get ensnared in the criminal justice system?
Elizabeth Kelley
Criminal Defense Attorney
Elizabeth Kelley is a criminal defense lawyer with a nationwide practice specializing in representing people with mental disabilities. She is the co-chair of The Arc's National Center for Criminal Justice and Disability, serves on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights, Criminal Justice Section Council, and Editorial Board of the Criminal Justice Magazine Learn more.
Additional Resources
Why autistic people are less likely to get a fair trial
Elizabeth was recently interviewed for an article on
Elizabeth Kelley, a criminal defense lawyer who specializes in representing people with mental disabilities, described the challenges facing neurodivergent people in our legal system as "a tremendously involved question largely based on the type of neurodiversity" at play. You have criminal defense lawyers who will need to factor a client's mental disability or illness into account when determining what advice to give on taking the stand, impressing the jurors and interacting with the judge. If a client laughs at inappropriate times, or doesn't show emotion during upsetting testimony because of a flat affect, or takes a medication that makes them feel tired, or reacts poorly to being overwhelmed with the stimuli present during a trial, they could wind up making a bad impression on the judge and jurors.
The Violent Arrest Of A Woman With Dementia Highlights The Lack Of Police Training
It's been nearly a year since police officers in Loveland, Colo., injured an older woman with dementia and then laughed at the footage of her arrest. The fallout continues.

Two of those officers resigned and are now facing criminal charges, including assault and excessive use of force. They and the city are being sued in federal court. The rest of the police force — there are 118 sworn officers — is undergoing additional de-escalation training.
Worse Than a Prison’: Hospitals for the Criminally Insane
Mikita Brottman is one of today’s finest practitioners of nonfiction that explores the uncertain truths revealed when violence crashes into human life. Her 2018 book “An Unexplained Death: The True Story of a Body at the Belvedere” was more a meditation on the city of Baltimore and what it means to go missing than it was about any crime, even revealing that Brottman herself was once convinced she had become invisible.

Her new book, “Couple Found Slain: After a Family Murder,” embarks on an urgent and worthy task. Dispatching with the titular murder, in which a man in Maryland with a schizophrenia diagnosis kills his wretchedly abusive parents, in the first few pages, Brottman offers a precise and rarely seen accounting of American hospitals for the criminally insane. She argues, via her subject Brian Bechtold, that the system we have to shelter and heal people like him not only does not work, but is in fact far more damaging than incarceration.
Illinois Bars Police From Lying to Minors During Questioning
Illinois on Thursday became the first state to bar police officers from lying and using other deceptive tactics when interrogating juveniles.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Robert Peters and Representative Justin Slaughter, both Democrats, was signed into law by the Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker, in a news conference. The bill takes effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

The new law targets commonly used deceptive interrogation tactics, such as making false promises of leniency and false claims about the existence of incriminating evidence. False confessions have played a role in about 30 percent of all wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project. Researchers found in recent studies that people under 18 are two to three times more likely to falsely confess than adults.
Our approach to schizophrenia is failing
Right now, around 2.65 million people are living with schizophrenia in the U.S. Unfortunately, too many are relegated to substandard medical care, incarceration, and homelessness. Don’t they deserve appropriate medical care for a treatable disease?

That’s why we are calling on Congress to reauthorize the 21st Century Cures Act to include funding for priorities that serve individuals living with schizophrenia.

A newly released analysis by the Schizophrenia & Psychosis Action Alliance (S&PAA) on the costs of schizophrenia, both economic and in human lives, makes it clear that our current approach to this disease has failed. The U.S. spends $282 billion annually on a failing system. For each person diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 25, the total lifetime cost for one person is around $3.8 million or $92,000 per year.
FACT SHEET: Biden-⁠Harris Administration Marks Anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act and Announces Resources to Support Individuals with Long COVID
Today, on the 31st Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we celebrate the inclusion and access promoted by the landmark civil rights law for disabled Americans. Grounded in four core outcomes of full participation, equal opportunity, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency, the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in contexts such as of public accommodation, employment, transportation, and community living and provides recourse for people with disabilities who faced discrimination. The nation has made significant progress since the law was signed. To commemorate this day, President Biden will sign a proclamation marking the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Biden-Harris Administration has taken significant steps to achieve a more inclusive, accessible, and equitable country for people with disabilities, including people with disabilities that experience multiple forms of discrimination and bias on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation and other factors. Through quick policy action, the Administration has ensured disabled Americans are receiving resources and are included in key administrative proposals. Specifically, the Administration has:
Representing People with Mental Disabilities: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers

Representing People with Mental Disabilities: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers, was edited by Elizabeth Kelley. It contains chapters devoted to a variety of issues confronted by people with mental disabilities in the criminal-justice system, such as:

  • Competency
  • Sanity
  • Malingering
  • Neuroscience
  • Jail and Prison Conditions
Representing People with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers

Elizabeth's book titled Representing People with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers was released by the American Bar Association. Topics include:

  • Co-Occurring Disorders
  • Testing
  • Competency
  • Risk of Violence
  • Mitigation.
Elizabeth Kelley, Attorney at Law
5 Columbus Circle, Ste. 710
New York, NY 10019