Pa. Supreme Court Justice brings autism awareness to state courts, stakeholders

This Week in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system does a poor job of recognizing and dealing with defendants on the Autism spectrum. So says Pa. Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty who is working to fix the problem, one region at a time.

“Most people think autism is a disability. It’s not a disability, it’s just a different ability,” Dougherty said.

And changing what people think and how courts react to citizens on the Autism spectrum have become Dougherty’s mission.

“Too much hate and mean in the world. Too much. We gotta change that,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty is hosting town halls across Pennsylvania to educate police, district attorneys, and judges on the idea that a defendant appearing-delinquent or belligerent may be on the spectrum. It happened to him in a Philly court.

“I was incredibly humbled and embarrassed,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty has since learned one-in-59 Pennsylvanians are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder but suspects an even bigger number is undiagnosed.

Now, he’s spreading the word and seeking change.

“The person who admits their ignorance once shows it once. The one who doesn’t or hides it shows it often,” Doughtery said.

Dougherty will host a panel discussion on Tuesday in central Pa.

“I often say ‘the robe we wear should not be a symbol of fear, it should be a beacon of hope.’ I’m hoping to be that lighthouse,” Dougherty said.

abc27 News wanted to ask about the Supreme Court’s ruling in the election or about re-districting, but justices will not talk publicly about active issues.

To view the virtual Zoom panel on Tuesday, scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., spearheaded by Justice Dougherty on behalf of the state Supreme Court, interested individuals can submit comments and questions via court social media pages on Twitter or Facebook.

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