Autism, Asperger’s syndrome, Stalking, and other reasons for legal contact.

While most people with Asperger’s syndrome (who have higher functioning autism) are highly moral, highly ethical, a small minority get in trouble with the law.  This is probably slightly more common in those with Mild Learning Disability and Autism.  Persons with autism may get into difficulties with the law according to Denis Debbaudt an American expert on this issue because of:


(1)       Dangerous wandering.


(2)       May not respond to commands or instructions.


(3)       Lack of eye contact, may be misinterpreted as a sign of guilt.


(4)       May not recognise police uniforms, badges or vehicles.


(5)       Have a poor reaction to change in routine.


(6)       May reach for shiny objects.


(7)       May invade personal space of responder.


(8)       Inappropriate social responses.


(9)       Inappropriate laughing or giggling.


(10)      False confession or misleading statements during questioning.


(11)      Associated medical conditions like epilepsy.


(12)      Behaviour misunderstood by others resulting in calls for assistance.


(13)      A high pain tolerance.


(14)      Atypical responses during emergencies.


It is critical that professionals for example the police and staff working in forensic settings are aware of these features. Persons with autism are also easily led by others and as already stated misunderstand social cues.  Their obsessional thinking may have an aggressive theme. In one inpatient setting for Learning Disabled Offenders in the U.K. 12% had autism. There is insufficient training within forensic services on autism in most parts of the world.  Hopefully the Irish College of Psychiatrists, the Irish Psychiatric Association, and police authorities will deal with this matter in full. Police, parents and other professionals need to be able to identify the possibility that a person that they are interacting with may have autism or Asperger’s syndrome so that police and other contacts are less stressful for the person with autism or Asperger’s syndrome. In the U.S. research indicates that persons with developmental disabilities are approximately 7 times more likely to come into contact with law enforcement than others.  There is only a small likelihood that in the first instance the autism will be recognised either by the police or other professionals involved.


Persons with autism also can get involved in stalking and one of the reasons that persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders are predisposed to stalking according to Tom Berney a U.K. Psychiatrist is that they have impaired perception of social signals, misinterpretation of rules, misinterpretation of relationships, lack of awareness or concern for the outcome, and a focussed obsessive interest.  While this occurs it is not common.


Digby Tantum states that sexually motivated crimes are also unusual and when they occur may be a consequence of a lack of understanding on the part of the person with Asperger’s syndrome.  Persons with Asperger’s syndrome may be aggressive and commit offences against other people, but it is unclear how frequently and what proportion of people with Asperger’s syndrome are at risk of doing so. Many people with Asperger’s syndrome have a hypertrophied sense of right and wrong and are unusually conscientious and unwilling to break the law.  The Asperger’s syndrome are more likely to be victims than perpetrators.  Nevertheless even though it is uncommon persistent violence by a person with Asperger’s syndrome is a particularly difficult problem. Men with Asperger’s syndrome are over represented in a survey of one U.K. Secure Hospital.  Violence by a person with Asperger’s syndrome often has some special features.  It may be triggered by idiosyncratic stimuli nourished by rumination over past slights; displaced from provoking the person onto a safer target at a later date; and uninhibited by empathic response to the intended victims fear.  Sometimes the explanation for violence may be similar to that given by Raskolnikov in Dosteyevsky’s Crime and Punishment: that is it is of an experimental nature. It is often a wish to experience a sense of mastery and control over another person.  They may also do it to test their predictions about how others would behave in such extreme circumstances.


It is worth noting that Asperger’s syndrome can occur in people of talent like Casal, Kierkegaard, E. Hopper, A. J. P. Taylor, Goethe, van der Post, Columbus, O. Wells, and ‘H. G.’.