A new research collaboration between Trent University and Autism Alliance of Canada aims to better understand how the criminal justice system is experienced and perceived by Autistic people in Canada.
Dr. Stephanie Ehret, assistant professor of Sociology at Trent University, is working alongside Dr. Mackenzie Salt, postdoctoral Health System Impact Fellow at McMaster University and Autism Alliance of Canada, and Dr. Jonathan Lai, executive director of Autism Alliance of Canada, to seek input from Autistic adults to inform recommendations for a national autism strategy for the Canadian justice system.
“There is a real gap in our understanding of the experiences that Autistic people have with the criminal justice system,” says Professor Ehret. “Much of the limited information that we have is from professionals, like police officers and social service providers, as well as caregivers. What we are seeking now is information from Autistic people — with or without a diagnosis — to learn about their experiences, their insights, and thoughts.”
Gathering input to disseminate insights
Supported by a Partnership Engage Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), this research will take place in two stages. The first phase is a nationally circulated survey to gather input from Autistic adults. The second phase consists of focus group sessions led by Dr. Salt, an Autistic researcher, to examine the input to help form policy recommendations.
“This is an opportunity for us, as researchers, to listen to Autistic people share their stories about experiences that could have occurred in very difficult circumstances, to learn from them, and to use the results to hopefully effect change,” says Dr. Salt.
The research team, which also includes graduate and undergraduate students from Trent University, aims to share the results through at least one research paper, conference presentations, as well as recommendations for a national autism strategy.
“Autistic people are not more likely to be involved in criminal behaviour than Allistic (non-Autistic) people, but, for a number of reasons, they are more likely to encounter the legal system. Our goal is to learn about their experiences and their perceptions of the system. We are interested in their views of the criminal justice system, whether they have direct experience or not,” says Prof. Ehret.