oung people with autism can apply for a card that will explain their condition to police, youth workers and others in authority should they get into trouble.
The move follows concerns that people with autism are in danger of being issued with anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) for actions that can be deemed aggressive or obsessive.
The Autism Alert card, issued by the National Autistic Society (NAS), has been designed to help strangers identify their needs in situations where they find communication difficult.
Campaigners were concerned that the condition can be misinterpreted by those not trained to identify it. Some have already warned that the Government's "respect" agenda, which will use Asbos to enforce law and order, risks alienating and demonising youngsters.
Al Aynsley-Green, the children's commissioner, warned about "a kneejerk reaction and a one-size-fits-all response, where punishment is the answer".
He said children's rights were protected by the UN convention.
Organisations that support people with autism and mental health problems fear that where Asbos are issued for impairment-related behaviour, the orders could be broken and individuals criminalised.
The NAS has lobbied for a clear definition of anti-social behaviour to include the intent of an individual to commit such an act. However, the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 has not taken this into account, the society argues.
A spokeswoman said: "People with autism can sometimes display challenging as well as obsessive and ritualistic behaviour. This behaviour, which is related to their disability, may include poor awareness of personal space and repetition of strange sounds and words. Such behaviour could be interpreted as being anti-social, especially where there is a lack of understanding of autism.
"Autism must be taken into account in planning around anti-social behaviour and responsible individuals, such as Youth Justice Workers, must receive appropriate training in order that they are able to identify an individual with autism and know who to refer them to.
"When the behaviour of a person with autism needs to be addressed, long-term, specialist support is required from a professional who understands the disability, and who will work with the family and the individual in order to enable development. Asbos alone will be ineffective as they do not involve ongoing support."
The NAS receives 35,000 calls every year from people with autism, or their families, who feel misunderstood and vulnerable. The alert card is the same size as a credit card and fits into a bus-pass type wallet. It contains the person's name, emergency contact details and an information leaflet.
For more information, go to www.autism.org.ukcard or call NAS Publications 020 7033 9237