Learning difficulties: autism and the
17 June 2015
This week on the blog is Temporary Sergeant Terry Page.
Have you worked with people with autism? What do
you think about Terry's findings? Join in the discussion
in the comments below.
For many of us, taking a train is an easy routine. For
others, the railways can be a scary environment. It can be
seriously challenging for young and vulnerable people, not least at
a station with a complex layout at rush hour.
It was just one moment helping a child with autism – who had
been left confused at a busy London station – that changed the way
I work with people with learning difficulties. It’s ended up making
a huge difference with officers I work with, too. I’ve done
volunteer work outside of policing in the past, working with
children with learning difficulties, but handling situations on the
beat was different. Having to balance human empathy, policing
powers and customer and station staff expectations isn’t easy.
So I had a new mission: get beneath the surface of autism, find
out the misconceptions and make sure fellow officers can pick up on
what I learned. I went to a special school in Essex called
Treetops, where I observed first hand the importance of using
the right verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Drawing from
my experience and the expert knowledge of the staff at Treetops
School, I made some big discoveries to pass on to colleagues.
People with autism can become panicked by changes to their
schedule such as train delays or platform alterations. It can also
be scary speaking to a uniformed officer; I’ve got to remind them
I’m there to help. It’s often best to take a distressed person with
autism away from the crowds on the station and ask rail staff to
find a quieter spot.
Sometimes people with autism won’t maintain eye contact or seem
abrupt in their answers, or they may rock from side to side or make
other repetitive movements. They’re not being rude or evasive;
they’re simply gathering their thoughts, or it may be part of their
self-calming strategy. The flip side of this is that using too many
hand signals ourselves can be distracting or confusing.
Finally, patience is crucial. You’ve got to allow time for
someone with autism to answer any questions asked of them. Using
their name regularly is vital, making sure you ask calm, clear and
focused questions to avoid confusion. Sometimes they might find it
more comforting to write or draw to get their message across.
Remember, if you see someone on your journey who you think may
be vulnerable or at risk, let us know. Find an officer or a member
of staff, or call us on 0800 40 50 40
or text us on 61016.
The National Autistic Society and
Chief’s Council have produced a
guide to autism for criminal justice professionals.
Have your say
Your comments will be moderated in advanced and may take a while