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Autism spectrum disorder traits among prisoners

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Lisa Underwood, Jane McCarthy, Eddie Chaplin, Andrew Forrester, Richard Mills, Declan Murphy

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-117
Number of pages12
JournalAdvances in Autism
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2016


King's Authors


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.

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