A nationwide criminal defense practice focusing on representing people with mental disabilities.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that contains a broad range of disorders that affect communication and behavior. There is a wide variety of types and severity of symptoms that people experience. Individuals with ASD have persistent challenges in social interaction, problems with speech and nonverbal communication and sometimes repetitive or restricted behaviors. ASD can be diagnosed at any age, but symptoms generally begin appearing by the age of 2. Individuals with ASD can face significant challenges in the ability to function properly at work, school, and in other areas of life but many individuals with ASD live independent and successful lives.

Signs and Symptoms
Not all individuals with ASD show the same signs and symptoms.

In Representing People with Mental Disabilities: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers edited by Elizabeth Kelley, Dr. Stephanie Tabashneck writes  :

Children on the autism spectrum often have a unique medley of impairments and strengths. Some adolescents on the autism spectrum are fully verbal and need only limited support. Others have no language skills and are mostly or fully dependent on others to care for themselves. As autism expert Dr. Steven Shore stated, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.

Some common social interaction and communication behaviors include:

  • Not looking at or listening to other people
  • Failing to or being slow to respond to someone trying to gain their attention
  • Not making eye contact
  • Difficulties with conversation
  • Talking at length about a subject without noticing that others aren’t interested
  • Flat or inappropriate facial expressions
  • Trouble understanding others’ feelings or talking about their own feelings

Some common restrictive and repetitive behaviors include:

  • Echolalia—repeating words or phrases
  • A lasting and intense interest in certain topics
  • Overly focused interest in this such as moving objects
  • Easily upset by changes in routine
  • More or less sensitive than other people to sensory input
  • Flapping hands, rocking body or moving in circles

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 59 children has been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups but is 4 times more likely to occur in boys than girls. In some studies, it was shown that if one identical twin has ASD, the other twin is 36-95% more likely also to have ASD. Parents who have a child with ASD are 2-18% more likely to have a second child with the disorder.

Medication can be used to treat some of the behaviors that go along with ASD such as anxiety and depression, hyperactivity, attention issues, irritability, and aggression. People with ASD may also benefit from programs that help them learn social, communication, and language skills. Therapies that help build life skills and reduce challenging behaviors can also be helpful.
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, has served three terms on the board of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and serves on the Editorial Board of the American Bar Association's Criminal Justice Section Magazine.  Learn more .
Autism in the Criminal Justice System
People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are frequently misunderstood by the criminal justice system. This video on the North Carolina Department of Insurance YouTube channel follows a young man with ASD from the time of his arrest through his initial court appearance. It also shows how law enforcement, the prosecutor and the judge ignore, discount, and misinterpret his disability.  
Coming in 2019!
New Book In the Works
Elizabeth just signed a contract with the American Bar Association for a new book titled “Representing People on the Autism Spectrum: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers”
Roman Holiday

In July of 2019, Elizabeth will be moderating a panel on Autism Spectrum Disorders at the Annual Meeting of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health in Rome.  Other panelists include Dr. Eric Endlich, Dr. John Fabian, Dr. Howard Shane, and Dr. Alexander Westphal.
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Families' Guide to Working with a Criminal Defense Lawyer

When your family member with a mental disability has been arrested or charged with a crime, it can be a confusing and challenging experience that leaves you unsure of where to turn for answers. Here are some key things families can do to help the defense attorney handling their case.
Representing People with Mental Disabilities
Representing People with Mental Disabilities: A Criminal Defense Lawyer's Best Practices Manual , edited by Elizabeth Kelley is available for purchase from The American Bar Association. 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, Working with Experts,and Risk Assessment. Chapters are written by academics, mental health experts, and criminal defense lawyers. In the Introduction, Elizabeth writes that "This is the resource I wish I had had many years ago."