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      The prevalence of autistic spectrum conditions in a community offender sample

      Advances in Autism

      Emerald Publishing

      Criminal justice system, Autism, Probation, Autistic spectrum condition

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          Previous prevalence studies of likely autistic spectrum condition (ASC) within criminal justice settings have focussed on specialist forensic mental health settings. The purpose of this paper is to examine prevalence of autism in a general community forensic sample.


          In total, 336 offenders managed by a probation office were administered with a recognised screening tool to identify likely autism (AQ-10). Screenings were scored and those above the threshold were identified, where possible further diagnostic information was sought on positive-screened cases.


          In total, 4.5 per cent (15 offenders) of the caseload screened positive for autism. Descriptive demographic information such as gender, age and offence type is provided for this group. Further diagnostic information was available on eight of the cases. Three already had an autism diagnosis and further psychometric assessment indicated that a further three cases were 80 per cent likely to be diagnosable with autism.

          Research limitations/implications

          Demographic information on the sample could not be compared with norms across the whole probation caseload due to limitation of resources for the project. No further diagnostic information was available on six offenders who screened positive for autism.

          Practical implications

          The research indicates that autism is not substantially over-represented in a large community offender sample although further research is required to identify the full degree of representation.

          Social implications

          Different kinds of offences are observed to be committed by offenders who do exhibit autism. It would be useful for criminal justice staff to have a general knowledge about autism, also how people with autism might offend and how they might best be supervised by probation services.


          This is the first study of its kind internationally to examine prevalence of autism in a general community forensic sample.

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          Most cited references 20

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          Offenders in emerging adulthood: School maladjustment, childhood adversities and prediction of aggressive antisocial behaviors

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            The Asperger Syndrome (and high-functioning autism) Diagnostic Interview (ASDI): a preliminary study of a new structured clinical interview.

            The development of the Asperger Syndrome (and high-functioning autism) Diagnostic Interview (ASDI) is described. Preliminary data from a clinical study suggest that inter-rater reliability and test-retest stability may be excellent, with kappas exceeding 0.90 in both instances. The validity appears to be relatively good. No attempt was made in the present study to validate the instrument as regards the distinction between Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism.
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              Prevalence of Asperger's syndrome in a secure hospital.

              The hypothesis that Asperger's syndrome (AS) may go unrecognised in forensic populations was examined by ascertaining the prevalence in Broadmoor Special Hospital. The entire male patient population was screened by examination of case notes. Identified cases were subject to the next stage of the study, which involved observation and interviewing of patients, and a semi-structured interview of key staff. A prevalence of 1.5% (0.6% to 3.3%, 95% CI) was found. The addition of equivocal cases increased the prevalence to 2.3%. The prevalence of AS in Broadmoor Hospital is greater than that reported for the general population.

                Author and article information

                Advances in Autism
                Emerald Publishing
                03 October 2016
                : 2
                Issue : 4 Issue title : Autism and offending behaviour Issue title : Autism and offending behaviour
                : 191-200
                National Probation Service, Bicester, UK
                Author notes
                Andrew Bates can be contacted at:
                586705 AIA-05-2016-0014.pdf AIA-05-2016-0014
                © Emerald Group Publishing Limited
                Page count
                Figures: 1, Tables: 0, Equations: 0, References: 22, Pages: 10, Words: 5338
                research-article, Research paper
                cat-HSC, Health & social care
                cat-LID, Learning & intellectual disabilities
                Custom metadata

                Health & Social care

                Autistic spectrum condition, Probation, Autism, Criminal justice system


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