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Monday, October 17, 2022

Identifying Autistic Children in the Court System

As work continues to bring lasting reform to the judicial system for individuals with autism, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty today announced the launch of a new data initiative being piloted within the dependency court system to assist children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

The goal of the pilot data collection effort is to identify children diagnosed or self-reported with autism at the time of entry into the court system. In doing so, county, judicial and law enforcement agencies will be better informed and further equipped to recognize and respond to individuals with autism in dependency cases. At the completion of the pilot program, Dougherty hopes to expand the effort system-wide. 

By making this information available will be better prepared to meet the needs of all court users. “One in 44 children and one in 56 adults in Pennsylvania are diagnosed with autism,” said Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty.  “Three years ago we joined forces with judges, attorneys, court staff, advocates, law enforcement, medical practitioners and more with a shared goal of making the court system a place where everyone is accepted and celebrated for who they are and offered the help they need, when they need it the most. “

 In 2020, the Supreme Court signaled its commitment to Pennsylvanians with autism by forming a firstof-its-kind partnership with the Department of Human Services (DHS) to heighten the focus on helping judges better understand the necessary evaluations required for diagnosis, treatment and services for individuals with ASD. 

Committed to moving the initiative forward, Dougherty and DHS developed a statewide virtual listening tour to hear first-hand about challenges faced in the system from medical professionals, service providers and individuals with autism alike as they sought access to justice. 

Since that time, Justice Dougherty has partnered with the Pennsylvania Courts’ Office of Children and Families in the Courts to create a taskforce known as the Autism in the Courts Taskforce. The taskforce is focused on providing increased training opportunities for judges, helping further identify gaps in the system for individuals with autism and intellectual disabilities and creating a local roadmap to resources and services. 

For more information about the Autism and the Courts effort visit