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A case-control of offenders with high functioning autistic spectrum disorders
Woodbury-Smith, M.R., Clare, I.C.H., Kearns, A., Staufenberg, E., WATSON, P. & Holland, A.J.
Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology, 16(4), 747-763
Year of publication:
Although a number of case reports have suggested that some people with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) commit criminal offences, and that core clinical and cognitive characteristics may be associated with this vulnerability, the possibility has not been investigated. The exploratory study described in this paper examined whether the cognitive impairments of people with ASDs are associated with their vulnerability to offend. Twenty-one adults with ASDs and a history of offending, 23 adults with ASDs and no history of offending, and a general population group of 23 people without ASDs were compared on established measures of those aspects of cognition known to be impaired in both people with ASDs and offenders: theory of mind, emotion recognition and executive function. In comparison with their non-offending peers, the ASD offenders showed a significantly greater impairment for the recognition of emotional expressions of fear, and were shown to have a normal theory of mind ability, but showed no difference in executive function or the recognition of facial expressions of sadness. It is proposed that a small group of people with ASDs are co-morbid for autism and developmental disorders of antisocial behaviour, and that this accounts for their vulnerability to criminal offending.