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Embracing Neurodiversity: A Call for Autism Acceptance and Police Training

Updated: May 3

This article supports Autism Acceptance Month, which is celebrated every April. It aims to raise awareness about autism and promote acceptance, understanding, and inclusion of people on the autism spectrum. The article highlights the challenges faced by families with autistic children, especially when dealing with police, and calls for more training and resources to be made available to the police force to ensure that all members of society are treated with respect and understanding. 


Police Scotland has been taking steps to incorporate neurodiversity inputs in its training programs, especially for tutor constables. It shows that they are listening and actively working towards creating a more inclusive and accepting environment for people on the autism spectrum and other hidden disabilities. Police forces around the world must continue to prioritise such training and resources to ensure that all members of society are treated with respect and understanding. 


A special thank you from SEMPER Scotland to Ch. Supt. Alan Gibson and his diligent team at the Scottish Police College and our colleagues at Disability and Carers Association are at the forefront of this change. 


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I have been asked to contribute some words for autism acceptance month from my perspective.  For context, I am the wife of a serving Police Sergeant, and the mum of a 15 year old autistic child.


Our son would fall into the category of 'high functioning autism', though I would caveat this by saying that when you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism.


Not every autistic child looks 'overtly' autistic, or at least what the public perception of an autistic person would look like.  I think the public perception is that children with autism have trouble speaking, can have some quite loud tics etc.  It is not as clear cut as that.  The autistic spectrum is huge, covering everything from social and emotional issues, to communication issues, learning difficulties etc.


For our son, he main has issues from a social and emotional perspective, and needs some extra support at school to help aid his understanding.  He can find it difficult to understand his emotions, and the emotions of others, which can mean that he will have extreme reactions to things at times.  These reactions can also be triggered by stress, or uncomfortable situations.


You could walk past him in the street and have no idea that he is autistic.  However if he is out and about and unable to cope with something, his extreme reactions could leave some people scared, shocked etc.  As a parent, this is what worries me the most.  Because 'societies' view of children with autism is for all intents and purposes wrong, anybody viewing our child having a meltdown would automatically assume alcohol, drugs, mental illness etc were the contributing factors.  Rather than being kind and helpful, people then end up calling the Police.


My concern then turns to how the Police would handle this situation.  History makes me think that this would not be handled well, just look at everything you read in the papers!  The go to position is never, I wonder if this child is autistic, will shouting at them make the situation worse.  The go to always seems to be to try and calm the situation down, but that is NEVER going to happen during an autistic meltdown, where the child is scared, uncomfortable, and any interaction is going to make that worse.


My husband understands this, and tries to apply this to his job, and remind others of this.  However, as a parent of a child about to move into Adulthood, my biggest concern here is that the Police Service does not do enough, and that rather than protecting my child, they could make a situation worse due to the lack of training in this area.


In my view, the Police should utilise the resources available to them, speak to serving officers who have autistic children, bring in family members, and use those lived experiences to help shape how they respond to these things in the future.  We should all have confidence that the Police are going to protect our children, no matter what, and I believe the Police service could and should be doing more to equip their officers to deal with 'hidden' disabilities more.  Why do we always have to be reactive, and wait till something is handled badly and then all learn from it.  Autism is more common than ever, let's be proactive here and shape the future of Policing to ensure that all members of society are dealt with appropriately.

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