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Forensic Interviewing for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum


This resource provides helpful tips and information for justice professionals on how to conduct a forensic interview for individuals on the autism spectrum.

Justice scales and a gavel.It is important to recognize that individuals on the autism spectrum should be believed when they have reported being a victim of a crime. Individuals on the spectrum can be particularly susceptible to victimization due to challenges they may have across the below areas:

  • Difficulty with communication (if they cannot verbally communicate maybe they will not report the incident, or it may be more difficult for them to do so)
  • Difficulty recognizing deception and understanding good touch/bad touch (may be more trusting and believe that what is happening to them is “ok”)

Additionally, people on the spectrum may be seen as “unreliable” or not “believable.” This makes them further vulnerable to victimization as a perpetrator may think that they are more believable than someone with autism or an intellectual disability. Below are some tips to help forensic interviewers gather the information they need in a way that is most comfortable for individuals on the spectrum.

Understanding Autism

Do not dismiss non-verbal individuals as being unable to communicate. There are lots of different ways individuals may communicate.

Consider the following:

  • Do they understand you?
  • Do they use a communication device?
  • Do they use gestures?

Presume competence.

When possible, include someone who is familiar with the individual’s communication mode to help facilitate the interview.

Important Considerations

Determine how the individual communicates (verbal/gestures/communication device)

If they use a communication device, make sure someone is present who knows how to use the communication device effectively

Use the individual’s words (especially if they use a communication device)

If the individual uses a communication device, make sure the words and language you use are included in the individual’s vocabulary found on the device

Build trust and rapport (reduces anxiety and improves trust)

If you notice the individual is wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt, ask what their favorite Rolling Stone song is

Be concrete and literal with language and avoid pronouns, figures of speech/idioms, abstract language

Avoid using abstract phrases and slang speech like “What’s up?” instead be literal with your questions, “What are you doing?”

Be careful of conversational punctuation (“Really?!”, “You do?!”) can be leading and suggestive which may cause them to change their answers

Use visuals

Using visuals such as social stories can help explain abstract concepts. For more information on social stories related to the justice system visit the social stories section of the Justice Resource Collection.


Take breaks

Let the individual know that it is okay to ask for a break when they need one

Timing of the interview is important

The individual may do better in the mornings, afternoon, etc.
Consider if medication is used at what time of day it’s most effective

Consider the environment

Ensure the physical space is conducive to the individual/consider sensory needs and have sensory items available such as a stress ball, fidget toys.

Avoid infantilization

Do not speak to a 30-year-old man in the voice you may use with someone younger regardless of ability or disability

Multi-session interviews may be needed and should be close together as individuals with autism may take more time to process information and consequently, they may need more time to organize to process a response. Processing language and executive functioning (planning, sequencing) may be difficult for individuals with autism so an interview may need to take place over several days

Use same interviewer each time

The individual’s tone may sound bossy, or they may be brutally honest

Understand that individuals on the spectrum may struggle with expressive language so they may appear to be disrespectful due to their tone of voice or choice of words

Building trust, getting used to the tone of someone’s voice and their speech patterns may help individuals with autism feel safer and communicate more effectively

Have one person communicate at a time if multiple interviewers

Having too many voices and too much language coming at the individual may cause them to shut down

Informed consent (right to revoke consent at any time)

Make sure the individual with autism or the caretaker understands what consent means.

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This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.