While the legal system does not consider juvenile offenders to be on the same level as adults, these individuals can still face serious repercussions in the event of a criminal allegation. While courts generally recognize the need for specific age-appropriate penalties for juveniles, there are some factors that should be an important consideration when making sentencing determinations for youthful offenders.
One of these critical considerations is a diagnosis of autism. Statistically, few juvenile offenders have autism, but for those that do, their condition can play a significant role in how they process information and understand what is happening around and to them. Some suggest that the juvenile justice system should have a specific and unique approach for these offenders.
Understanding autistic individuals
Individuals in the juvenile justice system may find themselves in a difficult position for behaviors they cannot truly control or understand. For example, an autistic individual could end up in trouble for inappropriate touching or obsessive behavior, even if he or she doesn’t truly understand how or why it’s happening. This is a common issue in highly functioning autistic teens who may not show other signs of a sensory disorder. Advocates suggest that a specialized approach is necessary to meet their distinct needs, such as offering diversionary programs.
A study of juvenile sex offenders found that a high number of them had varying degrees of autism. The study also found that traditional treatment programs and disciplinary approaches were not effective for these children. For example, it may be especially difficult for a teen with autism to understand and empathize with the victim’s point of view. Some believe that the court’s lack of understanding of autism could lead to inappropriate sentencing and other issues for these specific types of juvenile offenders.
Seeking a fair outcome
For a juvenile offender with autism, the justice system can be difficult to understand and navigate. It is especially important for these individuals to have the support of professionals and others who will advocate for their rights and interests, even when facing serious allegations of wrongdoing.
It is appropriate and fair for a court to recognize the specific needs of offenders with special needs such as autism. When facing these types of allegations, a parent of the accused will want to take immediate action to protect the rights of his or her child, starting with learning about the defense options available.