What Criminal Justice Professionals Need to Understand about Autism Spectrum Disorder

What Criminal Justice Professionals Need to Understand about Autism Spectrum Disorder
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1Module 1
Recorded on: 2022-04-12
Unit 1Presentation Materials: What Criminal Justice Professionals Need to Understand about Autism Spectrum Disorder
Unit 2Transcript: What Criminal Justice Professionals Need to Understand about Autism Spectrum Disorder
Unit 3Workbook: What Criminal Justice Professionals Need to Understand about Autism Spectrum Disorder
Unit 4Recording: What Criminal Justice Professionals Need to Understand about Autism Spectrum Disorder

People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are more likely than the general population to have an involvement with the criminal justice system because of characteristics and behavior distinctive to them that can be misconstrued as deliberate actions that conflict with public safety. Dr. Wes Dotson leads the discussion so those who work with individuals on the spectrum can better manage these interactions.

Dr. Wes Dotson is an Associate Professor in the Special Education Department in the College of Education and the Director of Applied Behavior Intervention Services at the Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri. He’s dedicated over two decades working with individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Specifics of the discussion include:

  • The diagnostic criteria for ASD, the specific ways these manifest in an individual’s daily life, and how these characteristics are demonstrated in different ways and different degrees across the spectrum.
  • Facts about ASD in terms of the gender most likely to be impacted, its genetic component, the dearth of sources that explains its cause, and how it is not an illness that can be cured.
  • How ASD is currently regarded as the fastest growing neurodevelopmental disability.
  • How those in the spectrum are more likely to encounter law enforcement and tend to get entangled with the criminal justice system as victims, offenders, or just by running away.
  • Common struggles, behavioral markers, and other information and cues to look out for and familiarize with that indicate a person may have ASD.
  • Proactive efforts that an individual with ASD or their families are taught to engage in to communicate to people around them that they or their family member is on the spectrum.
  • Points to keep in mind when dealing with individuals with ASD – their responses are not personal, they want to do the right thing, they like rules and structure, and interactions are likely to be awkward.
  • Characteristic behavior that people with ASD have which may cause problems.
    • They are literal when they process language and struggle to identify non-verbal cues.
    • They manifest repetitive and routine-driven behavior which makes it difficult for them to handle changes and surprises.
    • They elicit unusual sensory responses to the environment when overwhelmed.
    • They have difficulty communicating which becomes aggravated when stressed.
  • What can be done to bridge the gap and overcome these common issues.
    • Being aware of your language, explaining exactly what you want, and clarifying what you mean.
    • Establishing predictability and stability by providing visual support, advance notice, and rules.
    • Giving them time and space to process the sensory overload and calm down.
    • Talking less, being silent, and giving them the opportunity to self-soothe.
  • Solutions and workarounds to employ if an individual with ASD becomes escalated.
    • Ignore the repetitive behaviors and allow them to self-soothe.
    • Simplify their environment and allow someone they’re familiar with to help them calm down.
    • Prevent unnecessary talk and touch, and notify in advance when something is about to happen.
    • Keep communication simple and literal, and provide them time to process these.
    • Tell them exactly what to do or show them by demonstrating, modeling, drawing, and other less language-dependent means to get the point across.

Questions from the audience are about:

  • How ASD symptoms tend to present in women.
  • Tips on how to prepare an individual that is on the spectrum for court testimony.
  • Managing email communications with someone with ASD.
  • Considerations when putting someone with autism in handcuffs.
  • Factors to take into account when supervising a person on the spectrum in a correctional facility.
  • Resources for parents of children with ASD who are involved in the justice system.
  • Getting someone on the spectrum to engage with court obligations.



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Resources and Handouts


Audience Comments

  • “Great overview of how a person with autism is impacted by the criminal justice system. It increased my awareness.” — Victor
  • “The card was beneficial. I found that interesting and very helpful.” — Whitney
  • “I have received a lot of autistic youth in the last several months. This helped me understand some of the dynamics and ways their brain works which will help me better serve the youth and help my staff understand their pattern of behaviors.” — Tonya
  • “Everything presented was extremely valuable and helpful! One of the best webinars I have attended. Thank you so much! Wes is an excellent presenter.” — RHONDA
  • “Specifics provided on how to handle someone with autism. We all need to be aware of the possibility with EACH interaction with the public so that we have positive outcomes for law enforcement and the autistic individual.” — Gina
  • “Excellent topic and overall training. I definitely learned some things I was unaware of before today. Thank you very much.” — D
  • “Wow!! I found the whole webinar to be valuable!! Thank you…first training on Autism that I have seen offered in 36 years as a probation officer. Would highly recommend it.” — Suzanne
  • “This was the best of the webinars I have watched so far. Information was presented directly and clearly, and situations presented telling how the information could be used in real life.” — Shannon
  • “Dr. Dotson had so much GREAT information, but it was particularly helpful to hear what people shouldn’t do. I think people generally want to help but keep talking and doing other things, and it only makes it worse. Thank you!” — Rebecca
  • “The presenter was really enjoyable to listen to. He had a good voice, his pace of speaking, and kept it interesting.” — Maggie
  • “I liked how the information was presented-easy to understand and pretty straightforward. It also reaffirmed that I already use some of Dr. Dotson’s suggestions of how to interact with the youth I work with that have ASD.” — Dianne
  • “This presentation was great! Dr. Dotson took complex information & made it relatable & understandable.” — Kate
  • “I really appreciate that Dr. Dotson looks at autism like my agency does: it is part of the range of humanity and is not something to be treated.” — Melissa
  • “I would like to say “Thank you” to Dr. Dotson for this webinar. This information was very informative and straightforward. I work with the juvenile justice population and found this information very interesting on how to possibly identify someone with ASD, how to approach someone with ASD, talk to them, and give them their space, if possible.” — Jody
  • “As a co-responder with the police department, this presentation gave me ideas on how to instruct the police to respond to autism calls. Very simple points but important.” — Stephen
  • “Simply OUTSTANDING. This presentation is something ALL walks of people should hear. It’s amazing how a little compassion & understanding can save the day! Thanks for the webinar & I’m looking forward to Dr. Wes’ next one.” 🙂 — Mary
  • “This training really helps me understand ASD. I have someone in my transitional housing program with ASD. I only wished I’d taken this training before my resident moved in 4 years ago.” — Bruce



This webinar has been pre-approved by the Maine Animal Welfare Program for 1 Continuing Education Unit for the State of Maine’s ACO annual training. You can find more information about Certification, required annual training or submitting materials for credit at Maine’s Animal Control Officer Resource Page.




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