The presently existing divides and the course of future law and policy surrounding autism will necessarily be impacted by the cure and neurodiversity viewpoints. At the core of the divide between these two viewpoints is how each side defines disability, a term which has, historically, carried with it derogatory connotations.
No matter what specific legal issue initially brings them to a lawyer’s door, several areas of the law are impacted when an attorney represents an autistic client.
A threshold issue before an accused autistic offender can stand trial is whether the individual is competent to do so. However, the standard an accused must meet to be found incompetent to stand trial is high. Further, if an accused does meet the standard and is found incompetent to stand trial, such a decision will likely compel a civil commitment process. Insanity in the context of a criminal defense can be used in two primary ways to prevent or mitigate punishment for an offense. In the case of an accused autistic offender, the offender’s autism could either negate the mens rea element of the offense charged or, despite the presence of all elements of the crime, excuse the offender’s conduct.
Generally, in making a determination about custody, a court attempts to maintain stability in the life of the child. With the broad judicial discretion granted in making a determination of what is in the best interests of the child, time and increased numbers of cases determining the custody of autistic children will determine which of the competing views of autism will ultimately come to dominate how future courts define the best interests of an autistic child.
Having an autistic child places great strain on many areas of family life, and parents of autistic children are more likely to become divorced. It will be increasingly necessary, as the numbers of autistic children in our nation rise, for family courts to consider issues involving autistic children.
Many autistic families have cards to hand out explaining that their child is autistic. Why do we wear a shirt or hand out cards notifying strangers our children have autism?
What is autism?
What causes autism?
What are the prevailing societal views influencing the treatment of autism in medical, legal, and educational circles?