Understanding ADHD and Autism for an Individual Engaging with the Justice System

By: Gareth Snaith, Neurodiversity Coach, 3SC

10th April 2024

Gareth Snaith, Neurodiversity Coach

3SC delivers neurodiverse services to people on probation in Wales, Midlands and Thames Valley, and more recently we are delighted to be able to offer our coaching and training to service users and staff across London.


3SC Coach, Gareth Snaith, share below considerations that he feels are important when understanding ADHD and Autism, both conditions are highly prevalent in the justice system.


When individuals engage with the justice system, it’s essential that alongside the rehabilitative element, they are also provided with understanding and support. This is especially important if they have Neurodivergent conditions. I’m going to look at two common conditions, the reason for this is that we see them co-existing often within our caseloads. These conditions are ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Recognizing and addressing needs specific to these conditions can significantly impact their experiences in the justice system and their journey toward rehabilitation. It is important to note that these conditions are complex, organic and hugely individual and so this article deals only with generalisable strands. In order to fully and effectively engage with any client, a holistic and individual approach is crucial.


ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
Broadly speaking ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects an individual’s ability to pay attention, control impulses, and manage time effectively. Consider the following when individuals engaging with the justice system have ADHD:


Symptoms: ADHD can lead to difficulties in sustaining attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Understanding these symptoms is crucial in the context of legal processes and rehabilitation.


Accommodations: Individuals with ADHD may require accommodations that account for their attention difficulties and impulsivity. In formal settings, clear communication, access to support resources, and structured routines can be valuable.


Trauma-Informed Approach: Recognize that individuals with ADHD who have engaged with the justice system are likely to have experienced trauma. A trauma-informed approach can be instrumental in addressing their unique needs.


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by differences in social communication, repetitive behaviors, and restricted interests. When individuals engaging with the justice system have ASD, consider the following:


Communication and Sensory Sensitivities: ASD can lead to challenges in social interactions and heightened sensory sensitivities. In formal settings, patience, clear communication, and sensory-friendly accommodations can improve their experiences.


Accommodations: Offer sensory-friendly spaces, clear written instructions with a focus on the what, why and when, and flexibility when individuals with ASD engage with the justice system. Consider providing access to counselling services to support their well-being.


Common Considerations:


Flexibility: Recognize the need for flexibility in legal processes for individuals with ADHD and ASD. This flexibility may include alternative communication methods and schedules that account for their unique challenges. Eye contact may be difficult, gestures may be more or less expressive and subjective social cues may be misunderstood.


Training and Awareness: Equip team members with training to understand the unique needs of individuals with ADHD and ASD. Promote an environment that prioritizes support, understanding, and accommodations during interactions with the justice system.


Reducing Stigma: Work to reduce stigma surrounding neurodiversity. Encourage empathy, support, and equitable treatment for all individuals, regardless of their neurodevelopmental characteristics.


Individualized Approach: Acknowledge that each individual’s experience is unique. Tailor accommodations and support to their specific needs, taking into account their experiences within the justice system and their wider life.


Legal Obligations: Ensure that legal processes and procedures comply with local laws and regulations related to disability accommodations. These legal frameworks are in place to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities, including those with ADHD and ASD who engage with the justice system.


Understanding and addressing the needs of individuals with ADHD and ASD who engage with the justice system is essential for creating a more equitable and supportive environment. By offering personalized accommodations,