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Autism spectrum disorder traits among prisoners

Lisa Underwood (Centre for Longitudinal Research Auckland, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand AND Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Science, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, UK)
Jane McCarthy (Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Sciences, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, UK AND East London NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK)
Eddie Chaplin (London South Bank University, London, UK AND South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK)
Andrew Forrester (Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Sciences, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, UK)
Richard Mills (Research Autism, London, UK)
Declan Murphy (Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Sciences, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, UK)

Advances in Autism

ISSN: 2056-3868

Article publication date: 4 July 2016

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to determine the extent of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) traits among prisoners. The authors tested the hypotheses that ASD traits would: be continuously distributed among prisoners; be unrecognised by prison staff; and predict whether a prisoner met diagnostic criteria for ASD.

Design/methodology/approach

ASD traits were measured among 240 prisoners in a male prison in London, UK using the 20-item Autism Quotient (AQ-20). Further diagnostic assessment was carried out using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. Results were compared with ASD data from the 2007 Psychiatric Morbidity Survey.

Findings

There were 39 participants with an AQ-20 score=10; indicating significant autistic traits. The distribution of ASD traits among participants appeared to be normal and was not significantly higher than the rate found in a population-based sample from England.

Originality/value

Few studies have explored ASD traits among prisoners. The authors identified high levels of unrecognised ASD traits among a group of male prisoners, many of whom went on to meet diagnostic criteria for ASD. The study highlights the need for specialist assessment within the criminal justice system for individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders including ASD. The authors discuss the process of carrying out an ASD assessment project in a prison.

Keywords

Citation

Underwood, L., McCarthy, J., Chaplin, E., Forrester, A., Mills, R. and Murphy, D. (2016), "Autism spectrum disorder traits among prisoners", Advances in Autism, Vol. 2 No. 3, pp. 106-117. https://doi.org/10.1108/AIA-11-2015-0023

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited