Mental Health, Autism & Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Courts

Information for magistrates, district judges and court staff

Home Contents Search

d. How do you recognise when a defendant may have autism?

Autism is a hidden disability, which means there are few – if any – visual clues that a person has autism by looking at them. Autism affects each individual differently. Previous experience of an individual with autism won’t necessarily give you any indicators for how to recognise or interact with the next person that you meet with autism due to the spectrum being so wide.

There are some signs that you can look out for that might suggest a defendant has autism.

A defendant with autism might:

  • struggle to understand what is being said or misinterpret what is said;
  • seem over-compliant;
  • be honest to the point of bluntness or rudeness;
  • seem overly anxious or agitated;
  • avoid eye contact or give too much eye contact to the point of making others feel uncomfortable;
  • provide far more detail than is required or seem unable or unwilling to move on from a certain aspect of that detail;
  • interpret what is said very literally; and/or
  • not appear to understand the consequences of their actions or the emotional impact on others.

© Prison Reform Trust and Rethink Mental Illness. All rights reserved.