This blog entry was submitted by a member of the Healthy Relationships Curriculum team who has raised a child with autism and serves as a community advocate for change:
The Parkland High School shooting has brought increasing attention to the subject of crime as it relates to individuals with ASD. As a parent of a teen with autism, I have tried to learn as much as possible about legal issues and criminal behavior as it relates to autism as well as other developmental delays and co-morbidity. I have also spent a great deal of my time as an advocate researching, developing and conducting autism training sessions in the juvenile justice system for law enforcement, probation officers, and judges.
We need to consider the following:
* Current research suggests that there is limited and conflicting evidence regarding the volume and frequency of crimes committed by individuals with autism. There are over 3.5 million people living in the U.S. with an ASD diagnosis. It is estimated that less than one percent of these individuals have ever been arrested or charged with a crime.
* Individuals with ASD charged with a crime often have other mental health issues such as ADHD, bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia that experts suggest play a greater significance in criminal behavior than autism (known as “co-morbidity”).
* Individuals with autism are much more likely to be victims of a crime than to be the offenders. In fact, the U.S. Justice Department reports that individuals with developmental delays are seven times more likely to be sexually assaulted.
* The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders reports that psychologists say a lack of appropriate sex education leaves people with autism more vulnerable to sexual victimization.
* Researchers at York University go on to suggest that explicit instruction on appropriate sexual behavior is more crucial for people with autism “due to difficulties recognizing red flags, and interpreting the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others.”
Our curriculum provides detailed and direct instruction in the areas of self-care, sexuality, and relationship development. The curriculum was specifically designed by Dr. Larry Sutton and the staff of Wesley High School to help educate and inform adolescents and young adults about the importance of healthy relationships in their homes, at school, and in the community. Subjects such as privacy, personal space, appropriate use of social media, and how to develop safe friendships and romantic relationships are covered in the Healthy Relationships Curriculum. Covering these and other related topics will undoubtedly decrease problematic behavior, strengthen an individual’s understanding of their rights and responsibilities, and ultimately lead young adults to safer participation in the community. We invite you to continue this dialogue with us, and learn how the Healthy Relationships Curriculum can contribute to prevention within the population you serve through proactive strategies.