New initiatives to support Autism Awareness
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At Essex Police, we are continuing to support those who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with a series of new initiatives.
It’s currently Autism Awareness Week (29 March–4 April) and our Disability and Carers Network have been working hard to educate officers and staff about the needs of people with ASD.
A pilot scheme this summer will also see a holding cell at one of our police stations transformed by local art students to make it more ASD-friendly.
Autism affects how people communicate and interact with the world. One in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.
Samantha Bridge is our co-lead for neurodiversity. She has a background in traumatic brain injuries and her son has Asperger’s syndrome, which falls under the ASD spectrum.
She described the issues that a person with autism might face in an interaction with police.
“It’s not always evident that someone has autism, and there is huge difference in how someone with autism needs to be dealt with. They often don’t like to be touched, and there are sensory issues, like loud or unfamiliar noises or lighting, that can cause huge problems.
“Someone with autism needs more time to process information but there is also often not a lot of time to explain to somebody what is going to happen. By the time they’ve reached a custody environment they could already have heightened stress levels.
“What we can do is make that experience as easy as possible, not only for people with ASD but for staff members who may have never dealt with someone with ASD.”
Samantha said that although exact figures are debated there has been a rise in the number of people being detained who have ASD. High-functioning adults may not tell officers they are on the spectrum.
To help improve understanding, Samantha and the team have shared a range of materials. These include cards that can be handed to people with ASD that explain the custody process using calming colours and inclusive language.
There are also posters to raise awareness about autism in every custody suite and ‘quick cards’ featuring guidance for staff.
Samantha has been working with a clinical psychologist from the NHS who has assessed all the force’s custody suites and developed a training programme that will be delivered to custody staff in the coming months. Everything from food to the types of blanket given to people with ASD has been reviewed.
On top of this, local art students are being commissioned to paint a calming mural in a cell at Colchester police station. Samantha said that simple measures like wall art and using softer night lighting can make a big difference.
“We’re putting the tools in place to make it a better experience for everyone,” she added.
“There are still an awful lot of people who don’t believe autism is a thing so it’s really important we try to change the mindset. We want to make people aware and improve their understanding.”
At Essex Police, we value difference. Autism needn’t be a barrier to a long and successful career.
Detective Inspector Jamie Mills joined Essex Police in 2004. He is autistic and believes this gives him a unique perspective to everyday challenges. He says that people with registered disabilities shouldn’t dismiss the idea of joining the police. Read DI Mills’ story here.