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Legislation and the Law
Decorative map about disability access.

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The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990, prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, government services, and telecommunications. The intent of such legislation was, and is, to ensure that an individual’s abilities, and not their impairments, are the focus of decisions affecting their lives (Guide to Disability Rights Laws | ADA.Gov).
Word chart naming the rights of autistic individuals.

In 2014, "an autistic teenager in Michigan survived a murder attempt committed by her mother...There is no excuse for murder or any other form of violence directed against disabled people. Lack of adequate supports and services does not lead to murder. The attitude that disabled life is lesser or of less value does."

LEFT: Image of hearts and bees, with words representing the rights of Autistic people and others who live wigh disabilities.

#JusticeForIssy: Statement by Autism Women’s 

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is a law that sets out a process for developing and enforcing accessibility standards.

Persons with disabilities and industry representatives work together with the government to develop the standards.

Under the AODA, the government is responsible for creating accessibility standards that organizations must follow. Implementing and enforcing these standards will help us work together to make Ontario more accessible and inclusive by 2025.

Accessibility standards

Accessibility standards are laws that government, businesses, non-profits and public sector organizations must follow to become more accessible.

Progress towards accessibility

Accessibility Standards help organizations to identify and remove barriers for people with disabilities in 5 areas of daily life:

  1. customer service

  2. information and communications

  3. employment

  4. transportation

  5. design of public spaces

Three Standards Development Committees are working to develop standards in the areas of:

  1. health care

  2. education for kindergarten to Grade 12

  3. postsecondary education

People with disabilities are also protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code, which protects people based on the following grounds:


  • Age 

  • Ancestry 

  • Citizenship 

  • Skin Colour 

  • Creed 

  • Disability

  • Ethnic origin

  • Family status

  • Gender expression

  • Gender identity

  • Marital status, and

  • 11 additional grounds.



THE Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO)

If an Ontario resident believes they have experienced discrimination or harassment, they can file an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The HRTO resolves claims of discrimination and harassment brought under the Human Rights Code in a fair, and timely way by offering the conflicting parties the opportunity to settle their dispute through mediation. If the parties do not agree to mediation, or mediation does not resolve the application, the Tribunal will hold a hearing.

While Tribunal decisions do not hold the weight of Criminal Justice System verdicts, if the Tribunal determines that a party (e.g., the organization or business) has breached the imposed settlement, then it may make any order that it considers appropriate to remedy the breach.

Learn more:

Hands holding a justice scale inside a heart shape.

RIGHT: Woman screaming.   

 Image "Scream: by Maks Karochkin

Woman standing against a brick wall, screaming.

Aggression in Autism

"In addition to the core symptoms of autism, which include social communication difficulties, restricted interests, and sensory processing difficulties, both children and adults with autism often present with many other ‘autism-related’ symptoms and behaviours. Aggression is one of them.

Aggression in autism can involve severe tantrums, anger, hostility, sudden-onset violent outbursts including self-harm and rage ‘episodes’. Up to 20% of individuals with autism exhibit such violent behaviours. In many cases, aggression involves destruction of property and direct violence towards other people including carers, causing them bodily harm.

Such aggressive behaviours have very negative effects on daily functioning and quality of life of people with autism and their caregivers, and further add to stress and social isolation. Some research suggests that aggression in autism causes carers and teachers greater stress than the core features of autism.

Aggression is associated with more negative outcomes for children with autism and their caregivers, including decreased quality of life, increased stress levels, and reduced availability of educational and social support.

Individuals with autism and aggressive behaviour also have lower educational and employment opportunities, and sometimes get involved with the criminal justice system."

Aggression In Autism One Simple Cause

 Autism Science and Research News,of%20individuals%20with%20autism%20exhibit%20such%20violent%20behaviours. July 24, 2021

Americans With Disabilities Act

Autism and the Law: When Trouble Comes Our Way

By Anjolie

“I may have the advantage of race and gender. I may be able to stave off a meltdown for a short period. I may try my hardest to comply and be non-threatening, but I’m only ever one misunderstanding or nervous officer away from death. And it may be, in any given encounter, that there’s nothing I can do about it.” (“Cassie” Personal communication)


Much has been written about training law enforcement officers to recognize and de-escalate situations involving people with mental health and cognitive / developmental disabilities. These situations can escalate to violence when non-autistic people, with little understanding, knowledge or awareness of autistic differences, witness disturbing behaviors and call Emergency Services.

In the mid-2000s, I worked for Laura Sky, a documentary filmmaker in Toronto, Ontario, learning a lot about tragic encounters between people with mental illnesses and police. The premise of her documentary, Crisis Call, was Armed police should never be first responders to people experiencing a mental health crisis, (Sky). Too many people with psychiatric issues and/or developmental disabilities behave in ways others don’t comprehend. If police are called upon to intercede, the crisis may escalate—sometimes to the point of lethality.

“Since 2015, nearly a quarter of all people killed by police officers in America have had a known mental illness…One of the many examples: the [2020] shooting of a distraught 13-year-old boy with an autism spectrum disorder by Salt Lake City police after his mother called officers to report that her son was having ‘"a mental breakdown."’ (Treisman).”

More likely to be victims

Like those facing a mental health crisis, Colleen M. Berryessa, 2014, (as cited in Chiacchia, 2014) reports, “Researchers agree that most individuals with high functioning ASD are law abiding citizens who are more likely to be victims of crimes than commit crimes, but they are still seven times more likely to intersect with the criminal justice system than individuals without ASD”. (Berryessa, 2014)

Autistic children and adults frequently have co-morbid mental health issues. And autistic traits may expose them to criminal charges due to perceived antisocial behavior, inability to pick up on social cues, and challenges with both verbal and nonverbal communication. (Cohen, Dickerson & Forbes, 2014 cited in Chiacchia, 2014).

In nearly all situations, especially those involving a person in crisis, responding officers must evaluate the scene and make instant decisions. According to police officers I’ve personally heard address this issue, You get very little information about the subject of a call from the dispatcher. You’re going in blind, having to weigh each situation against your training, experience and potential consequences. You’re constantly making split second decisions.

The decision-making process requires “A police officer…to describe a specific set of circumstances or facts that would lead any objectively reasonable law enforcement officer to suspect the individual is, or has been, engaged in a criminal activity.” (“Reasonable Suspicion”)

Misinterpreted traits

Gaze aversion, literal interpretation of language, mutism, reduced reciprocity, and flat affect are interpreted by a majority of neurotypicals (NTs) as deceptive. Behaviors such as stimming, rocking and pacing are commonly associated with perceptions of dishonest behavior.  (“Criminal Justice and Mental Health, Disabilit | EurekAlert!”)

In an Ontario study of 284 youth and adults with autism, conducted over a period of 18-months by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), 16 percent of the study participants reported interactions with police. In one-third of the incidents, adverse police action increased the autistic person's agitation, worsening the situation. The study’s author, clinician-scientist Yona Lunsky, suggests, "If police maybe don't recognize or understand that there's autism there, they don't have the right sensitivity to respond." (Boisvert)

Frightening encounters

Ryley Bauman, 16, who is non-verbal and functions at the level of a seven-year-old, was playing in a park behind his grandparents house when he was apprehended by officers who believed he was on drugs. Spending time in a holding cell traumatized him. Ryley now clings to his parents and, according to his father, has been robbed of his hard-won independence. (Snowdon)

In March 2021, an 11-year-old autistic boy, highly sensitive to touch, was arrested for poking a classmate with a pencil, after the other student wrote on him with a marker. Bodycam footage showed officers grabbing him, pushing him against a desk, ignoring his screams that they were hurting him and putting him in the back of a patrol car. Left alone in the car for two hours, the terrified pre-teen repeatedly banged his head on the plexiglass, badly bruising his arms and forehead, requiring hospitalization. (King)

What causes aggression in autism?

While no one is 100 percent certain, numerous factors have been                              linked to autistic “rage” and aggression, including information                            and sensory processing impairments, insomnia, impaired                  communication (Sarris) plus medical/metabolic disorders                                    such as pain, seizures, GI issues, medication side effects,                           low blood sugar, vitamin/mineral deficiencies, hormone                                        imbalances, anxiety, OCD, and more. (Panol)

Anger is common in autism.

Obsessions combined with negative emotions often turn into anger rumination. Reliving stressors and the difficulty expressing emotions in ways others understand can lead to outbursts of irritability, anxiety and anger. Anxious, frightened people tend to seek out ways of managing or alleviating their negative emotions. Sometimes in ways that may not conform to social norms.

People with autism have few defenses and are vulnerable to bullying, intolerance, and negative behavior from others. Unfortunately, many of the things that upset those of us on the Spectrum may seem petty to our [neuro]typical peers. Warning signs of aggression include:

  • Fear, anxiety

  • Unwillingness to leave, or enter, a room or residence

  • Sweating, shaking

  • Self-abusive behavior

  • Covering eyes or ears

  • Pacing, hand flapping, rocking  

  • Lashing out. 


We use many terms to define autism: e.g., anxiety, executive functioning, bullying, social ineptitude, and sensory sensitivities. But we seldom talk about frustration. Frustrations accumulate. They stem in part from our cognitive rigidity, plus the fact that the NT world feels like an alien culture. We’re misunderstood, struggle to make friends, and often fail to reach our potential—which can lead to un-or underemployment and homelessness. We’re outsiders and many of us are lonely.  

Autists do behave badly at times. But, according to Lunsky, the big problem is: "If police maybe don't recognize or understand that there's autism there, they don't have the right sensitivity to respond… [P]olice need to be on the lookout for behaviours like repeating commands, avoiding eye contact or not responding to an officer's questions." (Boisvert)


Working together toward solutions

Better, and more extensive, police training on recognizing traits and behaviors signifying a person may have autism is vital. Being the subject of a police enquiry is frightening for anybody. And common “police tactics such as ramping up instructions, moving closer or even making physical contact can quickly backfire,” (Boisvert) escalating an incident to dangerous, even lethal, levels.

 Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help the autistic person better understand their own behaviors and teach them more productive coping skills. Police officers can receive training. And parents/guardians or caregivers of autistic children and adults can help by discussing, planning and preparing for situations where law enforcement officers may be summoned.   


This article was originally published by Autism Spectrum News and has been republished with permission.  You may view the original article at:  https://www,      

Police officer holding hand up in "stop" gesture.

BELOW: Police Officer holding hand out to stop someone

BELOW: Traffic Cop

Police officer holding hand up in a "stop" gesture.
OPINION: Government Fails to Keep its Promises

While the National Autism Strategy has through 2025 to be fully implemented,  promises were made in 2021 by the Ontario governement, under Premier Doug Ford, to enrol 8,000 Autistic children into core clinical services by the end of fall 2022.  As of August 2022, the actual number was only about 888.   The government defined an enrollment as being completed when a family accepted an invitation to core clinical services, not when children were actually seeing the benefits or funding was flowing to families. 

According to Monique Taylor, the Ontario NDP’s critic for children and community services, “Doug Ford’s record on autism funding is abysmal, but this is a new low.” 

According to The Canadian Press, February 22, 2023 , the Ontario government had stopped providing updates on progress to enroll children in core services.  This has frustrated families to the point where some have chosen to leave Ontario.  

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