In today’s Governor’s Council hearing for a nominee to the Family Court, an important issue came up, which is one I’m always very mindful of: Courtroom approaches to handling mental differences, particularly for people on the autism spectrum. As I note on my campaign website, “We must also guarantee that our courts themselves are accessible and accommodating to all varieties of disabilities, including physical and mental challenges that may or may not be visible.”
There’s still a long way to go on accommodating physical disabilities that are plainly visible, but their visibility has also contributed to progress on that front. We haven’t had as much progress on less visible things. It’s critical that our judges exercise flexibility, restraint, and understanding in dealing with adults and children with autism in the courtroom. “Unusual” or “disruptive” behavior isn’t always disrespectful, and sometimes judges need to work around it, rather than trying to control it. Courtrooms are very stressful environments for everyone, but they can definitely be overwhelming to people who aren’t neurotypical (especially for children), and it’s important to make provisions for that.