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J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 2012;40(2):177-90.

Emerging perspectives on adolescents and young adults with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders, violence, and criminal law.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Virginia, 102 Gilmer Hall, P.O. Box 400400, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4400, USA.


As the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) has increased, attention has shifted toward consideration of ASDs in adolescence and adulthood, as well as public health repercussions for this population. Since the social and emotional deficits within ASDs may be salient during incidents of unintended criminal or violent behavior, one area of focus is involvement of adolescents and young adults with ASD in the criminal justice system. Without a thorough understanding of how and why individuals with ASDs may exhibit criminal behavior, judicial and legislative state systems have begun to develop policies lacking a substantial evidence base. In this article, we attempt to synthesize the literature on one type of ASD (high functioning) and criminal behavior. Three specific deficits characteristic of individuals with ASDs (theory of mind, emotion regulation, and moral reasoning) are examined as potential confluent forces leading to criminal behavior among individuals with ASDs. Legal and policy recommendations are presented.

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