The importance of understanding vulnerable clients with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

Posted by Malcolm Johnson on

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As a personal injury specialist with over 20 years' experience in handling child abuse compensation claims, I have seen first-hand how people with learning difficulties are extremely vulnerable to abuse and the devastating effect this can have on their already difficult interaction with the world and people around them.

I therefore read with interest an article by Professor Penny Cooper of the University of London and 39 Essex Chamber and Clare Allely of the University of Salford and Gothenburg University titled “You can’t judge a book by its cover: evolving professional responsibilities, liabilities and ‘judgecraft’ when a party has Asperger’s Syndrome”.

Autistic people may be at higher risk of abuse than other people and it can also be more difficult to detect that they are being abused. Therefore it's imperative that personal injury lawyers are able to identify the signs of Autism and Asperger's Syndrome so that they can ensure that their clients get the help they need to secure a successful outcome in their case.

The article refers to a number of cases where a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome has been the court’s decision. The first of these is Patrick Galo v Bombardier Aerospace Case Refs 751/13 [2014] IT700/14. In that case the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland laid down a number of principles to be followed when one of the parties in a case suffered from a disability. That included having an early “ground rules” hearing where the court meet to discuss issues such as how the disabled person’s evidence is to be taken.

The article also explores the lawyer’s responsibility to identify a client’s disability. This can be very difficult indeed with certain conditions such as autism and few lawyers are trained to spot this. However, the article offers advice on social interaction and social communication when taking on a case.  Having worked in this field for some time I have learnt how to spot the signs and understand the extra support that is needed by clients who struggle with day to day communications and emotions – let alone the trauma of abuse.

There are cases where the courts have made allowances for parties with Asperger’s Syndrome, and it is important that vulnerable clients have a lawyer who understands the various methods that can help ensure that there is a fair hearing. In one case, the Court of Appeal of England and Wales found a jury’s verdict to be unsafe because they jury had not known that the Defendant had Asperger’s Syndrome. That condition made him evasive with questions, because he was pre-occupied with matters of detail.

Having worked with a number of clients with learning difficulties, I strongly advocate any measures that can be implemented to help autistic children and adults receive the best possible advice and representation in the courts.

Abuse compensation claims are complex and often involve painful and difficult discussions which will be even tougher for people with Autism or Asperger's Syndrome. Our Personal Injury team has the skills and expertise to make sure that abuse cases for vulnerable people are handled sensitively and professionally to ensure that substantial compensation claims are made against those responsible.

For more information visit our Abuse and Criminal Injuries page or contact the author of this article Malcolm Johnson who can provide confidential advice to you or on behalf of a family member.

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About the Author

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Malcolm is an Senior Associate in our London office, with nearly twenty years' experience.

Malcolm Johnson
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