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Autism not linked to greater risk of criminal activity, expert says

Posted at 4:43 PM, Nov 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-08 10:39:06-05

The arrest of former Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst's son for sex assault is raising questions about a developmental disability.  A statement on behalf of the family brought up Jack Eichorst's autism.

Police say Eichorst, 18, admitted to investigators he sexually penetrated a 12-year-old boy but it was consensual. In October, the boy reported it to a school counselor.

A statement released by the Eichorst family attorney, Sean Brenna said, “Jack is an amazing boy whose compassion, character, and giving heart, are admired by his loving parents, family and friends.  His autism has never slowed his passion for life or his trust in others.  Thankfully he is now home and I ask that the public respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time."

Doctor Keith Allen is the Director of the Munroe-Meyer Institute Department of Psychology. He says, like others, individuals on the autism spectrum are unique and often have challenges with social relationships but he says they don't have a greater risk to commit crimes.

"Sometimes that come more from unique experiences or circumstances they've been exposed to that really have nothing to do with autism as a disability.  That particular disability is not associated with more criminal behavior or sexual acting out,” Dr. Allen explained.

The disorder commonly impairs the ability to communicate and interact.  The Munroe-Meyer Institute at UNMC has seen lots of success by putting autistic children in group settings to practice and develop social skills.

Dr. Allen suggests visiting for good resources to learn common characteristics of autism, and evidence based strategies to help.