Ask Me Anything: about Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Criminal Justice System

Ask Me Anything: about Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Criminal Justice System
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1Module 1
Recorded on: 2022-11-17
Unit 1Presentation Materials: Ask Me Anything, Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Unit 2Workbook: Ask Me Anything, Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Unit 3Transcript: Ask Me Anything, Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Unit 4Recording: Ask Me Anything, Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Dr. Wes Dotson has done numerous Justice Clearinghouse webinars on people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). He provides guidance on their distinctive characteristics and behaviors, how first responders and the justice system as a whole should manage them as well as real-life examples demonstrating effective management and treatment programs. This time around, he answers criminal justice-specific questions and concerns that may have come up for the webinar participants that he didn’t quite cover yet in his presentations.

Dr. Wes Dotson is an Associate Professor in the Special Education Department in the College of Education and Director of Applied Behavior Intervention Services at the Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri. He has twenty years’ worth of special education and clinical practice, working with individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities of all ages in different settings.

Points he tackled in the brief overview are:

  • Facts and figures that illustrate the prevalence of autism and the progress seen in terms of how people with ASD are better able to thrive in society thus far.
  • The medical criteria for diagnosis of autism that looks into the social communication and interaction deficits and restrictive and repetitive patterns of behavior, interest, and activities.
  • Specific examples illustrating how these deficits and behavior manifest in day-to-day life as well as in interaction with law enforcement and other criminal justice elements.
  • The importance of awareness, understanding, and compassion that for those with ASD, these behaviors are just how their brains are wired and not a choice nor deliberate non-compliance.
  • The overrepresentation of individuals on the spectrum in the justice system and their heightened risk for trauma, victimization, and perpetration.
  • The growing literature currently available on effective training for the criminal justice system when interacting with people with autism.

Questions answered in the Ask Me Anything (AMA) segment are about:

  • Tools to utilize when instructing non-verbal students with autism.
  • Recommended tools and resources to better understand ASD and help those on the spectrum.
  • Training for corrections to better supervise inmates with ASD.
  • Advice for high-functioning adults with ASD and when disclosing their condition to people they interact with.
  • The role of culture in properly identifying/diagnosing ASD.
  • Valuable training curriculum for law enforcement entities interacting with people with autism.
  • Overcoming challenges that those on the spectrum tend to face when in the court setting.
  • The lengths to which autism can be used as a mitigator in sentencing or appeals.
  • Resources, approaches, and programs that may be used to engage youth and children with ASD.
  • Interacting with individuals on the spectrum:
    • De-escalating and calming down a person with ASD who became combative.
    • Getting a person with ASD to move on to a different topic when they’re hyperfocused on a specific topic or interest.
    • Scenarios and reality-based training developed for law enforcement officers interacting with those on the spectrum.
  • Providing support for victims on the spectrum whose cases law enforcement won’t investigate or take seriously.
  • The differences in how ASD manifests between men and women.
  • The earliest age to have a clinical diagnosis for ASD.


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Resources and Handouts


Audience Comments

  • “Very informative. I didn’t realize that with a lot of folks on the spectrum that discussions are pretty useless if they are in crisis.” — Cheryl
  • “I have enjoyed several of Dr. Dotson’s presentations. As a mother of an autistic son in prison, and a 30+ year LE employee, I am grateful that he is educating the LE community about interacting with folks on the spectrum. … so this issue is very personal for some of us in the audience. Thank you, Dr. Dotson!!” — Debbie
  • “This topic as it relates to LE interactions is something so rarely covered. There needs to be more training across the country on this topic as there is so much to learn and know.” — jodie
  • “The question and answer format was great.” — Kerri
  • “This was an outstanding webinar. Excellent info.” — Robert
  • “The format was great – some information and background provided by an amazing subject matter expert followed by extensive Q & A. Thanks for a great session.” — Andrea
  • “I am autistic and attended to see what type of information is being discussed and was very happy with this webinar. I would just like to see more on this topic – or find a way to market it so that more law enforcement and corrections officers attend. This information needs to be more well-known among all parties of the criminal justice system, especially our LEOs since they are the first point of contact in these situations and sadly, most are only familiar with the stereotypes surrounding Autism.” — Mary
  • “I learn so much from these trainings- thank you.” — Carmen
  • “First and foremost, this was an amazing presentation! I always appreciate education and awareness of ASD. The advice given on how to communicate and respond to individuals with ASD was very helpful. I hope to hear more about this topic!” — Jessica
  • “That autism is more of a social issue than I realized.” — Joseph
  • “I am so glad to hear that Law Enforcement is being trained to identify peaceful ways of addressing autistic individuals properly.” — Sophia
  • “The practical advice for how to deal with a person with ASD.” — Scott
  • “This presenter was excellent! This might be the best webinar through Justice Clearinghouse I have ever attended. He was so knowledgeable, down to earth, easy to understand, yet gave me such valuable information to use in my line of work (human services/social work). It was fabulous!” — Sonya



Additional Resources
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Case Studies in Law Enforcement Encounters with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders
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4 years ago
Thoughts on Adaptation from Dr. Wes Dotson
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