January 12, 2021
IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE: MY STORY by Kitty Dubin
My son, Nick, was not diagnosed with ASD until he was 27 years old becauseAsperger’s Syndrome didn’t exist as a diagnosis until 1994. Nick had been constantly bullied growing up and was socially isolated. Discovering he had Asperger’s/high functioning autism was liberating for him. The diagnosis provided an explanation for the problems in his past and created a clear career path for him. After he was diagnosed, he decided he wanted to help others on the autism spectrum and attacked this goal with a vengeance. Over the next 5 years, he obtained a doctoral degree in psychology, wrote 3 books on ASD, and became a well-known speaker in the national autism community.
On October 6, 2010, all that came to a screeching halt when FBI agents raided his apartment and arrested him for possession of child pornography on his computer. In an instant, Nick lost everything he had worked for his whole life: his reputation, his independence, his career and his identity. In an instant, my husband and I lost all the hopes and dreams we ever had for Nick. Soon after his arrest, we learned Nick’s was not an isolated case and that there were major concerns in the autism community about the increasing number of those on the spectrum unwittingly committing this crime and being harshly prosecuted. Over the next two years and eight months, five experts, two selected by the prosecution, evaluated Nick. All five experts agreed that he should not be criminally charged. In spite of this consensus, prosecutors still convicted Nick, resulting in his becoming a life-long felon and a registered sex offender. Our family was crushed by this decision and the resulting consequences.
Nick spent almost three years on probation which was agonizing for him. Every two weeks a probation officer would come to his residence unannounced. That kind of unpredictability created continual anxiety for him, as it would for anyone on the autism spectrum, who typically has difficulty dealing with the unexpected. But having to register as a sex offender was far worse than probation.
There are so many restrictions that make life nearly impossible for a sex offender: where you can live, where you can travel, where you can be employed, and who you can socialize with. For someone on the autism spectrum, it is like having one disability on top of another.
Aside from its many restrictions, the worst thing about being on the SOR is the stigma, shame and the unspeakable humiliation of being publicly labeled a sex offender. It is the modern- day equivalent of the scarlet letter and an unimaginable burden for someone with autism, who is typically super sensitive and constantly worries about what others think of him. Because he is on a public registry, he is always looking over his shoulder.
During the three years that our family worked on Nick’s case, we learned that many others with ASD and their families were suffering through the exact same nightmare. The emotional, financial, and physical stress these families must endure is staggering.
Because there was so little information available on this subject, our family decided to write a book about our experience entitled The Autism Spectrum, Sexuality and the Law, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. We wanted to bring awareness to those on the spectrum and their families that they were vulnerable to committing this crime and to educate the legal and mental health systems about this issue. As scary as it was to talk about this taboo subject, all three of us have spoken publicly about our experience at different conferences over the last two years. Like the mother who founded, Mothers Against Drunk Driving after her daughter was killed by a drunk driver, we have begun to reclaim our lives with a sense of purpose and newfound courage in being able to speak out about this terrible injustice that destroys the lives of many individuals with autism and their families. My husband, Larry Dubin, has written a second book, entitled Caught in the Web of the Criminal Justice System, which was recently published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.