What Do Criminal Justice Students Know About Autism? An Exploratory Study Among Future Professionals

Abstract

The social and communication impairments and other atypical behaviors among those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) make this subset of the population particularly vulnerable. These vulnerabilities also present a separate set of concerns when they have contact with the criminal justice system, typically as victims or witness of abuse, as offenders or suspicious persons, or lost or missing persons. Specific measures must be taken to improve communication and to avoid misinterpreting communication impairments and other atypical behaviors as an indication of a lack of cooperation, being under the influence of substances, or of guilt/lack of remorse. Without the benefit of having basic knowledge and understanding of autism, criminal justice system professionals will struggle with meeting the needs of those with ASD. The current study explored the level of autism knowledge and awareness of among a sample of 400 undergraduate criminal justice students and possible future criminal justice professionals. The results demonstrated that the sample of students had moderate knowledge of ASD, which did not appear to increase with time in program. Those with greater exposure to people with ASD had more knowledge and understanding than those who did not. Recommendations and implications are discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Due to the diagnostic changes from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV, APA, 2000) to the DSV-5 (2013) that reclassified all Pervasive Developmental Disorders under one term, Autism Spectrum Disorder, the use of ASD in this paper includes Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

  2. 2.

    See Pervasive Developmental Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV, APA, 2000),

  3. 3.

    Rain Main (1988) see https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095953/awards?ref_=tt_awd

  4. 4.

    An analysis of the Stone’s original 1987 survey conducted by Campbell, Reichle, and Van Bourgondien (1996) revealed that it was unidimensional, had reasonable internal consistency (alpha = 0.66), stable

    reliability, and showed initial reasonable validity.

  5. 5.

    New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Florida.

  6. 6.

    Dennis Debbaudt is a world-renowned author and ASD educator for law enforcement and emergency

    responders. See https://www.debbaudtlegacy.com/

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Correspondence to Melanie Clark Mogavero.

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Mogavero, M.C. What Do Criminal Justice Students Know About Autism? An Exploratory Study Among Future Professionals. J Police Crim Psych 34, 428–438 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11896-018-9302-0

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Keywords

  • Autism Spectrum disorder
  • Asperger’s
  • Police
  • Criminal justice system