Positive Approaches Journal | 6
I have worn many hats during my legal career over the past 43 years: as a federal prosecutor, a state prosecutor, a criminal defense attorney, a Parole Board Member, and a State Court Judge. However, I also acquired invaluable, non-legal insights as the father of a 30-year-old man who lives independently with the challenging cocktail of autism, anxiety and ADHD. While the books about autism that I collected over the years are informative, I found that the skills learned as a parent and engagements with other supporters were more helpful for my responses to those autistic individuals whom I encountered in the legal system.
The Criminal, Civil, Family and Orphans Divisions of the courts in Pennsylvania provide the judicial framework for the resolution of disputes. Involvement in the adversarial system is stressful and challenging for neuro-typical adults and children but is even more so for neuro-diverse individuals. Although researchers have come a long way since the work of Dr. Leo Kanner and Dr. Hans Asperger in the 1940’s, the various divisions of the justice system still have much work to do when dealing with participants who may be struggling with disabilities. It remains essential that all stakeholders in the legal system continue to provide thoughtful training -- and effective communication -- to all participants in order to ensure continued improvement of the way people with disabilities are treated within those systems.
—William F. Ward is a partner in the law firm of Rothman Gordon, P.C., of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.