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ASPartOfMe
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20 Mar 2021, 9:06 am

Pa. Supreme Court justice to hold public autism forum online Tuesday

Quote:
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty thought of himself as a forward-thinking judge when, some time ago, a juvenile came before him in a Philadelphia courtroom.

"The juvenile was nonresponsive. I asked him to look me in the eye and he wouldn't," Dougherty told The York Dispatch. "I was finding his behaviors as being incorrigible and borderline delinquent."

It was Dougherty's job that day as a Philadelphia court judge to determine the disposition of the young man's case, he said, and thankfully the juvenile's mother was a strong advocate for her son.

She explained that her son wasn't being defiant — he had autism and couldn't respond in the way the judge expected him to, he recalled.

"I had viewed myself as a forward-thinking judge and was pretty much humiliated and embarrassed," the justice said.

Dougherty had no personal experience dealing with people on the autism spectrum, so after that court proceeding, "I made it a personal mission to educate myself," he said.

When he subsequently took over as head of Philadelphia's family court, he made sure his fellow judges and others involved in the court system understood that those with autism might have different court needs, and might not share their diagnoses unprompted, he said.

Now, as a justice on Pennsylvania's highest court, Dougherty wants to see change throughout the commonwealth that allows courts to better understand and serve those on the autism spectrum, he said, whether they be defendants, victims, witnesses, jurors or other participants.

Along with the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, he has embarked on an online virtual listening tour about criminal justice reform when dealing with those on the autism spectrum.

More than 1,000 people participated in the two online webinars Dougherty has held so far, according to Stacey Witalec, AOPC spokesperson.

The third Autism & The Courts Regional Panel webinar is specifically for people in central Pennsylvania and will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 23. To register, go to http://www.pacourts.us/learn/autism-and ... #centralpa.

Panelists include Dougherty, advocates for those on the autism spectrum, the state Department of Human Services, a state police lieutenant, the Pennsylvania Health Law Project and court personnel.

Members of the public will be able to use the webinar's chat function to ask questions, which the moderator can then pose to panelists, Witalec said.

Level playing field: Dougherty said it's the responsibility of judges to ensure there is a level playing field for all, and that everyone — defendant, victim or participant — "can come into a courtroom and feel as if she will be heard."

"And a lot of times, 'being heard' is the ability to articulate," he said, adding that walking into a courtroom can be overwhelming "for those who have a perception issue."

I want the conversation to spark an understanding, or at least an awareness," he said. "I've learned that autism is not a disability. It's just a different ability. While it seems like it's cliché-ish, it's essential to a decent, civilized society (to acknowledge that)“

Dougherty said there have been incidents in which someone on the spectrum has come to court with an advocate, only to find the advocate wasn't permitted in the courtroom because they weren't a named party in the proceeding — without presiding judges ever even knowing it happened.

"And that needs to stop," he said, adding the issue "transcends race, gender and socioeconomics."

This is one of the best stories I have posted so far. The thing that is missing is no people on the spectrum is teaching this willing learner.


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Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity.

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman


Mona Pereth
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20 Mar 2021, 5:16 pm

From the "story highlights" above the story:

- PA Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty has embarked on a virtual listening tour to discuss what court reforms might be needed to serve those on the autism spectrum.
- To participate in the forum, go to http://www.pacourts.us/learn/autism-and ... #centralpa
- The Autism & the Courts webinar will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 23.


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sarcasm.king
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20 Mar 2021, 9:18 pm

Very interesting, too bad this type of thing is not required in all court jurisdictions. I would like to check out that forum when I get a free minute or preferably free day.

Despite my name, this is by no means sarcasm.


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ASPartOfMe
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24 Mar 2021, 4:08 am

The webinar

Quote:
“I have autism. My medical condition impairs my ability to communicate with others,” said Thomas Hassell, a panelist during today’s discussion.

Today was the third of five virtual roundtable discussions across the state educating people in the judiciary and law enforcement about dealing with autistic individuals.

“People with autism experience very real differences in how they communicate,” said Nina Wall, Director of the bureau of Supports for Autism inside of Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services.

Changes could range from the simple, like dimming the courtroom lights or moving conferences to the back of the room to avoid sensory overload. Other adjustments would allow advocates to be a part of the proceedings even if they are not on the official list of participants.

“That’s what we need, to take that extra step to educate and to learn and we are all going to be better people as a result of it,” said Kate Hooven from ASERT, Autism Services, Education, Resources and Training.

“Without change, is the system failing people that need it the most?” I asked Justice Dougherty.

“Yes, but not intentionally,” he answered. “As the old saying, ignorance is bliss. Well, ignorance is also destructive.”

Education combined with a connection to available services will possibly make a huge difference in a person’s outcome and their life.

“Nobody gets the warm and fuzzies when they walk through the courtroom door. But, nobody should ever leave without feeling heard.

After the final of the five roundtables, the stakeholders plan on coming together and producing a bench book for judges to help people with autism who enter the courts.

Already, some changes are benefiting the population as a resource guide is available for every Pennsylvania county to help people connect.


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Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity.

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman


skibum
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13 Jun 2021, 1:52 pm

I am so sorry I did not see this until today. This is wonderful. I wish I could have seen it in time to participate in the webinar.


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