Autism Spectrum Disorder Lawyer

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Autism Spectrum Disorder Attorney

Being charged with a crime is not something to be taken lightly, especially when the accused has autism spectrum disorder. If that describes you or someone you love, Elizabeth Kelley could be the attorney to help with your case. Navigating the legal process can be complex and confusing, and understanding how the laws apply to a person with autism takes legal guidance from an experienced autism defense lawyer who has in-depth knowledge of the subject.

A significant portion of her practice is devoted to representing people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

With a nationwide practice centered around representing individuals with mental disabilities like ASD, she works with compassion and sensitivity to help the unique cases of her clients. She is deeply involved in her field and served as the editor of the 2020 publication published by the American Bar Association, Representing People on the Autism Spectrum: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Learn more about her legal practice and why you can turn to her for representation. If you have autism and are facing criminal charges or if someone you love with autism has been accused of a crime, contact her office for a consultation.

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental and nervous system disorder. It has varying levels of impact on an individual’s ability to communicate and interact socially with others. The symptoms associated with ASD are broad and can have a range of effects on an individual’s behaviors. No two people with ASD are alike, but some common symptoms of the condition include:

  • Difficulty communicating and expressing feelings
  • Being overwhelmed in certain social situations
  • Repetitive behaviors and having an intense need for routine
  • An extreme sensitivity to physical stimuli
  • Repeating body movements to regulate emotions, known as stimming

The symptoms can be different between men and women with autism spectrum disorder, and they can vary in their level of severity from one person to the next.

Police Interactions With Individuals Who Have Autism Spectrum Disorder

In many instances, law enforcement officers do not have a clear understanding of ASD and have little or no training for responding to calls involving individuals who have this condition. People with ASD often have difficulty communicating, especially in high-stress situations, such as one that requires attention from a police officer. Therefore, encounters with law enforcement can be difficult or even dangerous for people with autism spectrum disorder.

A law enforcement officer who does not understand ASD or has no experience interacting with autistic people could misunderstand the autistic person’s behavior and believe their behavior to be criminal in nature. For example, a police officer could misinterpret a non-verbal autistic person’s behavior as non-compliant, which could lead to the unnecessary and unlawful arrest of the person with ASD.

Additionally, individuals who have ASD might not be able to speak up and advocate for their legal rights when interacting with a member of law enforcement. This could tip the balance of power unfairly, with the responding officer taking excessive liberties in their questioning or investigation that they might not in an interaction with a neurotypical person.

A power imbalance in which a person with autism spectrum disorder is unable to communicate and speak up for their rights or understand the context of their interaction with the law enforcement officer could lead to their unfair or unjust arrest. A wrongful arrest might be grounds for dismissal of a criminal case in some instances.

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Crime

It should be emphasized that simply because someone is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it does not mean that they are predisposed to criminal activity. Indeed, statistics indicate that people with ASD are more likely to be victims of crime.

However, because of the particular characteristics of ASD, some individuals may be vulnerable to committing certain types of crimes such as cybercrime, stalking, arson, and acts of violence because of online radicalization. Only a small number of people with ASD commit crimes. Nonetheless, the numbers of people in general who are on the spectrum is significant. It is estimated that 1 in 69 people in the U.S. are autistic whereas in the United Kingdom, 1 in 59 are autistic.

She has represented men and women on the spectrum of all ages. Some were diagnosed as small children. Some were not diagnosed until later in life. They have been charged with all types of offenses including online offenses and crimes of violence. They have been charged in state and federal courts.

Legal representation doesn’t come with guarantees. But depending on the jurisdiction, the strength of the forensic evaluation, and the openness of the prosecutor and court, evidence of the person’s autism can make a difference.

A final note: She is very sensitive to the fact that people with autism may have other issues.

For example, because of being bullied, some people may struggle with anxiety and depression. Indeed, people with autism may have a variety of other co-occurring disorders, which may include:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Sensory integration disorder

These co-occurring disorders could significantly impact the behavior of a person who has ASD, in addition to adversely affecting their decision-making abilities. She understands how co-occurring disorders might be a factor in the way that criminal cases are handled. She can work to develop an appropriate strategy for defending your or your loved one’s criminal case.

To read a chapter on Co-occurring disorders by Dr. Clare S. Allely from her book on Autism, please click “Download File” to access the PDF linked below:

kelley.cooccurring_disorders_final.pdf Download File


Q: Can an Autistic Person Be Charged With a Crime?

A: Yes, an autistic person can be charged with a crime. While law enforcement officers responding to a potential crime should be made aware that someone involved has autism, a person with autism spectrum disorder can be arrested and charged if they are suspected of committing a crime.

Q: Can Autism Be Used as a Criminal Defense?

A: As to whether autism can be used as a criminal defense, the answer is complicated.  While autism might not be an automatic reason for dismissing a criminal case, it is almost always relevant information that should be disclosed to the court.

Autism can also be a significant factor in the legal strategy that an attorney develops to defend an autistic person who is charged with committing a crime. She can use her knowledge and experience to develop such a strategy in defense of her clients.

Q: Is Autism an Excuse in Court?

A: It is unlikely that autism itself can be used as an excuse in court, however ASD might negate some element of the offense. While pleading not guilty by reason of insanity might be an option, this can be incredibly difficult to prove due to the high standards for this plea. Autism can be used to mitigate the charges, depending on the case and the unique circumstances of the person with autism who is facing criminal charges. Autism Spectrum Disorder alone may not cause the charges to be dismissed.

It is recommended that you seek legal guidance from an attorney who has a professional background in representing individuals with mental disabilities.

Q: What Benefits Do Autistic People Get in Court?

A: In court, autistic people have benefits as outlined by the Americans Disabilities Act, or ADA. This federal law says that people with disabilities have the right to equal access to public services, which includes those within the courtroom.  The ADA allows for people with disabilities, including autism, to have reasonable accommodations so they can effectively communicate in court.

She Represents People With ASD in Criminal Cases

With previous clients located across the country, she has dedicated her legal career to advocating for the rights of people with autism spectrum disorder and other intellectual disabilities. If you or someone you love has ASD and was charged with committing a crime, it’s important to hire an attorney who understands the disorder and its significance in developing a legal defense.

She has a thorough understanding of ASD and the law and has a strong reputation for defending people with mental disabilities in and out of the courtroom. Contact Elizabeth today to see how she can provide you or someone you care about with legal support.

Request A Consultation

Call 509.991.7058 or fill out our online contact form.