Billy's case (names have been changed to ensure anonymity) is the second in a series of case studies exploring how autism can influence entry into the criminal justice system and how it might be experienced once people with autism are in the system.
All cases are taken from real life examples from people that I have worked with personally, or that have been related to me by criminal justice professionals whilst I have been delivering learning disability and autism awareness training.
Billy's case highlights how behaviours or actions that people with autism may display, can be misinterpreted by authority figures. The way in which people such as Billy respond in such situations is also affected by their autism and can escalate the situation and bring them into contact with the criminal justice system when they have not actually done anything wrong.
Billy is in his early twenties. He has been diagnosed with an Autistic Spectrum Condition, affecting the way that he perceives the world around him, and how he interacts with other people.
He also has some social phobias, including anxiety about leaving the house. As a baby he did not settle well and his mother found that covering him in a heavy blanket reassured and soothed him. As he grew older, he still found this experience of weight comforting, especially in situations that made him anxious, such as leaving the house to go shopping.
He would wear a heavy army surplus trench coat, often putting tins of soup or beans in the pockets to add extra weight. During the winter, this was not a problem, but walking around Tesco in the middle of summer wearing a trench coat with full pockets would often attract the attention of security staff.
Because he lacked the communication skills to describe why he was wearing a trench coat in the heat of summer, and the 'theory of mind' to see what it must look like to other people, combined with his belief that he had, in fact, done absolutely nothing wrong, Billy often did not deal well with such encounters. He would argue with security staff and on several occaisions, the police were called.
He was never actually questioned by the police about, or accused of any offences relating to theft or shoplifting. The only times that he was arrested were for threatening security guards who confronted him, a policeman who he assaulted whilst they were trying to speak to him and resisting arrest.