“They’re the hardest group to treat, that changes the least.” Adapted sex offender treatment programmes for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Clinician views and experiences

Clare L. Melvin, Peter E. Langdon, Glynis H. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Aims: Clinicians working with individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who display sexual offending behaviours may face challenges during treatment, as a result of the cognitive and behavioural profile associated with ASD. This research explored the views and experiences of those running adapted sex offender treatment groups with men with ASD.

Method: Semi-structured interviews with group facilitators (n = 12) focused on service user engagement and response to the core components of the treatment programme (e.g. increasing victim empathy, addressing cognitive distortions, etc.), and gathered the experiences of those working with men with ASD who display sexual offending behaviours.

Results: Grounded Theory was used to develop a model conceptualising the potential impact of ASD on treatment outcomes, and this emerged predominantly through clinician’s views of risk of re-offending. Benefits of attending a group included: the presence of other group members, a forum to develop pro-social roles and relationships, and increased opportunity for monitoring. Challenges regarding empathy, specifically emotional empathy, and shifts in cognitive distortions were felt particularly pertinent to those with ASD, as well as questions over internalisation of therapy.

Conclusion: Despite identification of a number of challenges, adapted sex offender treatment programmes were considered beneficial for men with ASD, especially in light of a dearth of evidenced-based alternatives.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103721
JournalResearch in Developmental Disabilities
Early online date7 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

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