Autism Spectrum Disorder and Student Defense

All educational institutions have the right to create standards of behavior and compel their students to follow them. Students with disabilities such as autism, Asperger's, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are not exempt from following these rules. However, colleges, universities, high schools, and other educational institutions have legal obligations to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities to allow them equal access to education.

When it comes to codes of conduct and disciplinary processes, many educational institutions fail to provide ASD students with the support they need, leading to unfair hearings and unjust sanctions. Although schools have a right to discipline all of their students, they also have a responsibility to treat everyone fairly. When schools fail to consider how their disciplinary policies intersect with disability rights, they create an inequitable environment for students with ASD, where they are less likely to succeed.

Defending yourself from a misconduct charge from your school is no easy task. Colleges, universities, and high schools take student misconduct seriously, so you should too. If you are a student charged with misconduct by your university and you feel it involves your ASD, consider contacting a student discipline legal specialist with experience assisting students in the misconduct process.

The Disciplinary Process for Students with ASD

If you are a college student with autism, Asperger's, or autism spectrum disorder, you are subject to the same code of conduct as every other student on campus. As an enrolled college student, it's your responsibility to read your school's conduct code, handbook, resident life guidelines, and other applicable behavior policies. Representatives from your office of student affairs should be available to answer any questions you have about the school's policies.

Do You Have to Notify Your College or University if You Have ASD?

You are under no obligation to notify your university about your ASD. If you don't feel that it will significantly hinder your college experience in the classroom, campus housing facilities, or extracurricular programs, then you do not need to disclose your ASD on your college application. However, if you think you might need accommodations at any time to help you succeed in college— academically, socially, or emotionally—then it's probably wise to disclose your ASD to your university. If the institution doesn't know about your condition, it cannot provide the support you need.

If you are accused of any form of misconduct by your university during your time as a student, and you've already informed your university about your ASD, then you should request the accommodations you need for the disciplinary process that follows an accusation.

What considerations do colleges and universities make for autism spectrum disorder students during the disciplinary process?

  • Accused ASD students may be able to have a counselor or personal assistant present with them at all disciplinary hearings or meetings, even if the school's policies would normally prohibit it.
  • The university official or hearing board may pause the meeting or disciplinary hearing if it becomes overwhelming for the accused ASD student and resume once the student ready to go on.
  • The hearing board may allow the accused ASD student to provide written testimony rather than an oral statement.
  • If the university officials handling the case are aware the accused student has ASD, they may also ask the student directly if they need accommodation.

Although some universities make efforts to reach out to ASD students in disciplinary situations, keep in mind that as a college student, you are considered autonomous. Procuring the necessary accommodations largely falls to the ASD student, unlike in high school, where administrators take a more active role in disability accommodations.

Responsibility to Make Reasonable Accommodations

Both high schools and post-secondary institutions have legal obligations to make reasonable accommodations for students on the autism spectrum. However, the approach between high school and college differs. High schools follow the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), whereas colleges are bound by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

High schools and K-12 Schools

Throughout elementary, middle, and high school, students with ASD may have access to an Individual Education Program (IEP) to ensure they have the specialized services they need to succeed. Teachers and parents are usually actively involved in the education of ASD students in high school, and it's up to teachers and parents to identify students who might need an IEP and reach out. Most high school students are under 18, so parents can make decisions on their behalf as well.

Colleges and universities

Once students get to college, they carry more responsibility for obtaining ASD support services. Students have to learn to self-advocate, and approach professors, resident advisors, or other university staff themselves if they need assistance. Colleges and universities don't make IEPs for students, either. Many universities have ample resources for students on the autism spectrum, but it's up to the students to seek these resources out. Also, most college students are 18 and older, so parents cannot intervene.

When ASD students transition from high school to college, they should be aware of the resources available on campus and may consider these resources as a deciding factor for the college they choose to attend. Colleges must make accommodations to help students on the autism spectrum have equitable education. Such accommodations could help students overcome challenges related to communication, social skills, sensory and motor skills, learning style, and coping skills.

Some examples of accommodations for ASD students at the college level include:

  • Providing the instructor's lecture notes
  • Allowing a longer verbal response time for the student
  • Giving students a short break during class
  • Allowing students to wear hats, sunglasses, tinted glasses, earplugs, or earphones (for sensory issues)
  • Letting students complete tests or assignments on a computer
  • Providing more time for students to complete assignments and exams
  • Breaking up assignments into “sub-deadlines” to check in on progress

Students with ASD and Code of Conduct Violations

All colleges and universities across the country have codes of conduct. These codes have rules about behavior that all students enrolled in the university must follow. Codes of conduct are wide-ranging and may cover several topics including:

Codes of conduct also require students to follow all federal, state, and local laws in addition to the school's standards. Before beginning at a new university, students should always read and understand the code of conduct, as there may be infractions that they're unaware of.

Violating the code of conduct isn't a criminal matter, so you won't be arrested or go to jail for it. Nevertheless, misconduct in college is a serious issue, and most schools will treat it as such. You can end up failing a course, getting suspended, or even be asked to leave your university. There's usually no statute of limitations on college misconduct, either, so you could still face penalties years after you graduate.

College students with autism spectrum disorder are not exempt from following their school's code of conduct. Universities must make certain disability accommodations for ASD students to help them succeed in the classroom, acclimate to life on campus, and access the same services and programs as students without disabilities. These accommodations do not prevent universities from disciplining ASD students according to procedures in written codes of conduct, however.

What are examples of code of conduct violations?

Code of conduct violations can vary greatly and may include any of the following:

  • Academic dishonesty
  • Sexual misconduct
  • Sexual assault
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Hazing
  • Stalking
  • Harassment
  • Threatening behavior or domestic violence
  • Hate crimes
  • Violations of technology and computer use policies

Code of conduct violations encompass many more types of misconduct, but the above list reflects some of the most common violations that occur on university campuses.

Penalties for code of conduct violations

Each college or university has the right to set its own sanctions for code of conduct violations.

Examples of common sanctions include:

  • Disciplinary or academic probation
  • Suspension
  • Expulsion
  • Loss of campus housing
  • Loss of scholarship
  • Permanent notation of misconduct on the student's transcripts

These sanctions present both short-term and long-term consequences for college students. A violation of the code of conduct during college can follow you for many years afterward, preventing you from transferring to a new university, enrolling in a graduate program, creating difficulty securing employment or internships, or halting your education due to lack of funds.

Can you expect a disciplinary hearing?

When your school lodges a formal complaint of misconduct against you, it will go through formal disciplinary procedures. This process almost always includes a disciplinary hearing. You may also have to attend administrative meetings with the Dean of Students to discuss the matter or answer questions from an investigative committee.

At the hearing, you will get a chance to explain your actions, present evidence, and question witnesses. The school's representative will do the same. Some colleges allow students to have an outside attorney present with them at the hearing, and others assign students an advisor from the university. If you're allowed an attorney, whether or not they can speak on your behalf also varies by school.

If you're not allowed an attorney at the hearing, that doesn't mean you can't hire one anyway. A student defense attorney can still consult with you before the hearing, review the school's code of conduct and relevant policies, and help you prepare statements to give and questions to ask at your hearing.

Your rights during a code of conduct hearing

Students with disabilities must also participate in code of conduct hearings and any required meetings with university administrators. However, schools have an obligation to ensure students with disabilities have the proper accommodations so they can participate fairly in the hearing and disciplinary process.

For example, although some schools don't allow an external advisor at hearings, they may allow an ASD student to have an assistant with them to help get through the hearing. School administrators may also grant students more time to prepare for a hearing, although if they do, they must extend the same accommodation to the opposing party to ensure due process rights. The hearing board may also allow more breaks than usual or ask everyone to clear the room for a few minutes so the student can gather themselves.

If your university is already aware of your disability before the hearing starts, it will be easier to request accommodations. Notifying your school about your ASD after you've been charged and subsequently asking for accommodations does not guarantee that you'll receive the accommodations you ask for. Furthermore, if you believe your disability is implicated in the allegation of misconduct and your university did not know about your ASD before charging you, it's more difficult to prove your behavior was the result of your disability.

How should students with ASD respond to code of conduct violations at their universities?

If you are a student with autism spectrum disorder, or you have a child with ASD in college, who is accused of violating the school's code of conduct, the first thing you should do is get the facts. All students have certain due process rights, meaning colleges are obligated to inform students when they're formally charged and which rules they are supposed to have broken.

After understanding the charges against you, you should contact your campus disability services office, so they are aware of the situation. Often, the office of the Dean of Students and disability services don't communicate with each other, so it's up to students to inform disability services to seek appropriate accommodations in the disciplinary process.

Once the campus office of disability services is aware of the accusation, you or your parents should contact a qualified student defense attorney. Do not speak to anyone else from the school or attempt to give statements to school administrators until you've sought guidance from a specialized student discipline attorney-advisor.

Students with ASD and Academic Misconduct

Colleges and universities must provide equal access to postsecondary education and programs for students with disabilities per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, balancing accommodations with maintaining academic integrity isn't always straightforward, and some colleges fail to guarantee students with autism spectrum disorder their rights to due process in academic misconduct matters.

Academic misconduct is a serious issue at most colleges and universities, and particularly egregious violations can get students expelled from the school. What are some common examples of academic misconduct in college?

  • Plagiarism
  • Bribery
  • Cheating
  • Dishonesty
  • Classroom disruption
  • Failing to safeguard work
  • Facilitating academic dishonesty
  • Falsification of data or records
  • Obtaining advanced knowledge
  • Research misconduct
  • Sabotage
  • Self-plagiarism
  • Unauthorized assistance
  • Unauthorized collaboration
  • Unauthorized giving or taking of academic materials
  • Violations of ethics, honor codes, or professional standards
  • Violation of exam conditions

If one of your professors or another student alleges that you committed academic misconduct, your college can take formal disciplinary action. The process may differ from the code of conduct violation process or the Title IX disciplinary process. Academic misconduct allegations may not involve a formal hearing, and you may be asked simply to meet with a university official and a professor to discuss the matter. The process varies by school.

Disability accommodations at universities

Some universities attempt to provide disability accommodations in the classroom, such as allowing students to tape-record lectures, giving students more time to complete exams, or placing students in exam rooms with fewer distractions.

ASD affects a student's communication and learning skills, usually limiting the ability to read social cues or distinguish between wanted and unwanted attention. These students may have difficulties detecting dishonesty or tend to fastidiously follow the rules. These characteristics wouldn't seem to make students with ASD prone to cheating or plagiarism, but these students can still experience issues. What sorts of implications do the communication challenges ASD students face have for academic misconduct?

A student with autism spectrum disorder may be accused of disrupting a classroom by frequently interrupting the professor. ASD students could also be accused of facilitating academic misconduct if they're lied to by a fellow classmate who is cheating, and the ASD student doesn't realize they're lying. Misunderstandings and communication challenges can lead to a student on the autism spectrum being accused of college academic misconduct.

Students on the autism spectrum have the right to request accommodations for the classroom if needed. They can also request accommodations during a disciplinary proceeding for an academic misconduct charge. As a student with ASD, you should contact your campus's disability services office to discuss these accommodations so you aren't falsely accused of academic misconduct.

How should ASD students respond to allegations of academic misconduct?

If you are accused of academic misconduct by your college or university, know that there is a lot at stake. Potential sanctions could include loss of course credit, forfeiture of scholarships or financial aid, academic probation, suspension, or even expulsion. If you haven't already notified your university that you have ASD and feel that either your diagnosis was implicated in the alleged violation or you'd like reasonable accommodations for the disciplinary process, it's vital that you contact your disability services office as soon as possible.

Then, refrain from talking to any other university faculty or administrators until you and your parents have sought the guidance of a professional student defense attorney. Following the school's formal procedures is essential if you want to be cleared of your academic misconduct charge. Do not try to “take matters into your own hands” and confront your professor about the supposed academic misconduct. Any statement you make to your university can be used against you during an administrative meeting or hearing later.

ASD Students and College Sexual Misconduct

In recent years, college campuses have received attention and criticism over the handling of sexual misconduct. Because of this attention, sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, and other forms of sexual misconduct have become serious issues for most universities. There's often pressure on the school to act quickly, which compromises the due process rights of accused students. When colleges mishandle a sexual misconduct case, it has devastating effects on everyone involved.

In their fervor to make stricter rules about sexual misconduct, colleges have often neglected the impacts on ASD students. More and more college students with ASD arrive on campuses each year, yet the sexual misconduct and Title IX policies do not seem to take ASD students into account.

If you are a college student on the autism spectrum and you've been charged with sexual misconduct or a Title IX violation at your school, consider contacting a qualified student defense attorney for help. An attorney-advisor specialized in student disciplinary matters can help you hold your school to account and ensure your rights are protected.

Sexual misconduct and Title IX violations

All educational institutions in the U.S. that receive federal funding must comply with Title IX legislation. Title IX was enacted to prevent discrimination in educational activities on the basis of sex. Today, Title IX also protects every student from elementary school to graduate students from sexual harassment and sexual violence. Specifically, Title IX prohibits three types of sexual misconduct:

  1. Quid pro quo harassment
  2. Hostile environment harassment
  3. Sexual violence (includes sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking)

To comply with Title IX, universities must have a Title IX coordinator to handle claims of sexual misconduct that fall under the Title IX definition. In addition to a Title IX disciplinary process, many colleges and universities have also implemented a supplemental sexual misconduct policy that expands upon the Title IX definition of sexual misconduct.

These expanded definitions often fall under the category of sexual exploitation. Examples of sexual exploitation may include:

  • Invasion of sexual privacy
  • Prostitution
  • Exposing genitals without consent
  • Disseminating images of private sexual or intimate activity without consent
  • Observing others' private sexual or intimate activity without consent
  • Incapacitating someone else to compromise their ability to consent to sexual activity
  • Threatening to disseminate a recording of private sexual or intimate activity if someone doesn't provide a certain benefit
  • Exposing someone else to a sexually transmitted infection without their knowledge

University obligations during sexual misconduct disciplinary proceedings

When handling a Title IX or sexual misconduct claim, universities have obligations to their students that guarantee certain rights. These obligations apply to both accused students and the accusers.

  • Title IX obligations: Title IX dictates that students may have an attorney present during a Title IX disciplinary hearing, and may cross-examine all witnesses.
  • Due process obligations: Universities must afford students due process in disciplinary matters, including the right to know the charges against them, the right to see the evidence against them, and a chance to defend themselves.
  • Policy obligations: Universities have written policies they must stand by concerning disciplinary hearings.
  • Other motivations: Universities often want to maintain reputations as institutions of ethical standards, so they act accordingly when handling sexual misconduct cases.

Title IX and sexual misconduct policies on college campuses are ephemeral when it comes to deciding what is and is not sexual misconduct. Students and personnel without ASD struggle to understand the nuances and subtleties of what constitutes inappropriate behavior. It's unsurprising that ASD students, who may have an inability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others, are often accused of sexual misconduct or are the targets of sexual misconduct.

How Do Colleges Decide Sexual Misconduct Allegations?

Most colleges and universities have a specific grievance procedure for sexual misconduct cases. Title IX regulations require schools to have a Title IX coordinator who handles these cases, as well as an investigation and hearing process. When the Title IX coordinator receives a complaint of sexual misconduct, they will either investigate it or appoint other personnel to investigate it. During the investigation phase, the Title IX office gathers evidence by speaking with possible witnesses and speaking to both parties involved in the incident.

After the investigation, there may be a hearing, or the Title IX coordinator may decide the case. At the hearing, both accused students and accusers may have a chance to speak and question witnesses. At the conclusion of the hearing, a hearing board may decide if the sexual misconduct allegation is valid. Some schools may allow students to appeal after the hearing decision as well.

It's important to note that many colleges have two separate grievance procedures; one is for Title IX complaints, and one is for sexual misconduct complaints. The sexual misconduct policy usually covers incidents of sexual exploitation that do not fall under the jurisdiction of Title IX. While federal Title IX regulations mandate that schools have certain procedures in place, colleges may also write their own sexual misconduct policies.

Title IX and Autism Spectrum Disorder on College Campuses

Students with ASD may struggle on college campuses due to challenges with communication and behavior. Although they want to make friends and build relationships with other students—an integral part of the college experience—it's not always easy for ASD students to do so. Through difficulties in social information processing, poor understanding of social norms, and a lack of awareness of how their behavior is interpreted, ASD students may not recognize how their behavior interacts with Title IX and sexual misconduct policies on campus.

Title IX and sexual misconduct policies focus heavily on the notion of consent. Consent isn't always verbal, and some students alleging a Title IX complaint will say that the other party did not read their facial expression or body language accurately to know that the sexual activity had become unwanted. But it's difficult for ASD students who lack nuance around social norms and dating behaviors to perceive the physical signs, facial expressions, or even verbal cues that indicate an advance is unwelcome. Sexual interactions often involve blurred verbal and nonverbal cues, making it ambiguous even for students who do not have ASD.

The social and communication challenges that many ASD students face could land them with a Title IX or sexual misconduct violation, although they don't understand what they did wrong. An example might be when an ASD student who fails to read social cues follows another student and annoys them so much that the other student files a stalking or harassment complaint.

Universities should be aware that ASD students may be accused of sexual misconduct through a lack of understanding of social norms. Although a student's ASD won't qualify as an automatic defense in every case, in some situations, it can explain the student's behavior. Title IX coordinators are usually not trained to handle mental health disorders, and most colleges do not have a disciplinary process aimed at serving the needs of students with ASD. Without the right support in place, students on the autism spectrum accused of sexual misconduct may not get fair treatment during disciplinary proceedings.

For this reason, it's vital that ASD students contact a student defense legal advisor with experience helping students navigate the university disciplinary process.

How should ASD students handle a sexual misconduct charge?

When you're accused of sexual misconduct, your university will refer to you as the respondent and to the accuser as the complainant. The complainant can be someone who alleges you committed sexual misconduct against them or someone who allegedly witnessed you committing sexual misconduct against someone else.

Once the Title IX coordinator or school official receives the complaint, they may try to set up a meeting with you. If they do not tell you what the meeting is about, bring a trusted friend or another adult with you. At the meeting, if the school administrator tells you that you are being accused of sexual misconduct, you should not give any statement or try to defend yourself. Don't answer any of their questions, either. Ask for the allegation formally, in writing, and say you will respond to questions at a later time.

After your meeting with the school official about the sexual misconduct and with the formal allegation in hand, you should inform school administrators about your ASD or contact your disability services office. You should request school administrators for more time to prepare your defense.

At this point, take some time to familiarize yourself with your school's sexual misconduct policy. It should be published on the university website and free to access. You should also consider contacting an experienced Title IX or campus sexual misconduct attorney.

ASD Students and High School Academic Misconduct

High schools take a much more hands-on approach to ASD support services than most colleges. ASD students may partake in specialized education programs designed to meet their educational needs. In high school, the goal of disability support services is to help students succeed. In college, the goal is not success but providing equal access. Despite the more active role high schools take in the education of ASD students, it's still possible to encounter difficulties concerning academic misconduct.

Common Academic Misconduct Violations in High School

Most high schools have a policy that prohibits cheating, plagiarism, and other forms of academic dishonesty. Some schools must follow guidelines from the county or school district, and others may make their own academic misconduct policies. Schools must publish these policies in their student handbooks, which all students and parents usually receive at the beginning of each school year. It's up to students and parents to read and understand the academic integrity policy for their high school, which may prohibit behavior such as:

  • Cheating
  • Plagiarism
  • Bribery
  • Violating test conditions
  • Unauthorized assistance on schoolwork
  • Unauthorized use of school technology

High schools enact these policies to maintain certain academic standards and prevent one or more students from gaining an unfair advantage over the others. If students violate this policy, they could face punishments such as:

  • A do-over assignment
  • A failing grade
  • Conference between the student, their parents, and the principal
  • Disqualification from extracurricular activities
  • Permanent academic dishonesty notation on a school record
  • Suspension
  • Expulsion

The repercussions of high school academic misconduct go well beyond the penalties listed above. If your school determines that you've violated the academic integrity code, it will go on your transcripts, and colleges and universities may see it. It could prevent you from obtaining university scholarships or even from admission to a university. It could also affect your ability to get internships or part-time jobs while in high school.

Can Your High School Discipline You for Academic Misconduct if You Have ASD?

High schools have the right to discipline all their students for academic misconduct, whether that student has a disability or not. As an ASD student, you must follow the same rules as your classmates. However, high schools must also make accommodations to ensure you succeed academically. ASD students may have accommodations that are not extended to all students, such as having extra time to complete an assignment or exam. Generally, these accommodations are part of a student's IEP.

Does Your High School's Academic Integrity Code Mention Students with Disabilities?

High school academic misconduct codes typically give ambiguous definitions as to what constitutes academic dishonesty. Language such as “includes but is not limited to…” or “is up to classroom teacher or administrator's discretion” are common in these policies. Ultimately, teachers and administrators can decide what is dishonesty and what is not, and there is no grievance process like there is in college. Students usually do not get a hearing, chance to gather evidence, or the opportunity to question witnesses. Many schools also do not allow outside legal representation at a student's meeting with teachers or school administrators about academic misconduct.

Only if a student is facing a forced long-term absence from school, such as suspension or expulsion, do the student's constitutional rights to due process apply. If the proposed punishment for a student's alleged academic misconduct is long-term suspension or expulsion, they must be notified of this allegation and have a chance to defend themselves.

Due to the vague nature of high school academic integrity policies, it's no surprise that many do not mention how to handle academic misconduct when it involves an ASD student or student with disabilities. If an ASD student is in a specialized program, there may be program-specific provisions to cover instances of academic misconduct. Either way, teachers often have the authority to both accuse and punish students for academic dishonesty, without giving students a fair chance to present their sides of the story.

If you are a high school student on the autism spectrum and you are facing allegations of academic misconduct by your school, consider contacting a student defense attorney to advise you. Even if you don't have a hearing or if you aren't allowed to have an attorney present during your school's disciplinary meetings, an attorney-advisor can still coach you and your parents on what to say, questions to ask, and how to prepare a defense.

Defense Against University and High School Misconduct Charges for ASD Students

An accusation of misconduct at any educational level can feel overwhelming. If you've never had to deal with a misconduct allegation before, navigating your school's formal disciplinary processes can be challenging, and things can quickly go wrong. In some cases, ASD students are more likely to be accused of misconduct than their peers without ASD, and the school administrators in charge of discipline may have no experience with mental health disorders or disability issues.

When you hire a student discipline defense attorney, you can even the odds between you and your school. As a student with ASD, you have certain rights to reasonable accommodations, and if your school does not meet them, you can and should take action. A specialized student defense attorney can help you hold your school to account.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped countless students across the country in misconduct cases. If you want to protect your rights to equal treatment while getting an education, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.

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