Updated police autism guide released

The National Autistic Society has released the latest version of their guide for police officers and staff, updated September 2020. The document contains simple ‘do’s and dont’s’ for dealing with autistic suspects, victims of crime and witnesses, and examples of best practice.

The NPAA would like to extend our thanks to the NAS for providing the opportunity for us to contribute to this important piece of work, which will assist in our aim of training all frontline police officers in recognising and working with autism.

Click on the image to link to a free PDF download (email address required). Click here for the NAS online shop.

Why language matters

by Adam O’Loughlin
Head of Policy & Service Delivery | National Police Autism Association

Adam, do you prefer being referred to as being autistic or as having autism? The truth is that I’m equally unoffended by either, but if I had to choose, I would tell you that in my particular case, autistic is something I am, rather than autism being something I have. And it’s fair to say that to a great many people, how we talk about neurodiversity and the language we use really matters.

While ‘person-first’ language was long considered the most progressive way to talk about neurodiversity and disability, in recent years in the autistic and the wider disabled community, ‘identity-first’ language has become more prominent. These days many neurodiverse people see their neurology as an integral part of who they are – not a separate or negative add-on – and believe neurodiversity-positive language promotes equality and acceptance. Identity-first language tells society that we should be respected along with our differences, not in spite of them.

We should, of course, respect the right of everyone to choose the language that suits them and as a front line emergency service, we have to find a way to navigate the language around neurodiversity which is respectful to everyone. And that means that where possible, I believe we should use identity-first language. Here are the reasons why:

  • Language shapes attitudes. On far too many occasions I’ve seen language used that makes me cringe and is borderline offensive. We must stop saying things like ‘suffers from’ or ‘living with’ autism or other neurodiverse conditions, which clearly disrespect the people to whom they refer.
  • This change has been led by people with disabilities, and you may have heard the expression ‘nothing about us without us’ before. For far too long, the neurodiverse community in particular has had to put up with pejorative language being imposed upon them by people who aren’t affected by it. If this is what our communities are telling us, we should listen.

I also believe we need to get away from using functioning labels, as the overriding consensus is that they do far more harm than good. I’ll use autism as a good example of this. Realistically, there is no such disparity as simple as high or low functioning autism. Autism is a spectrum and we all function highly in some aspects and less well in others. Functioning in any one area can even fluctuate day-to-day depending on environment, accommodations and other factors. For example, an autistic person may perform a highly specialised task to an incredibly high standard when in a suitable environment, but be completely unable to perform the same task in an open-plan office surrounded by noise, activity and bright lights. They may instead appear surprisingly ‘low-functioning’.

Labelling a person as low-functioning dismisses their abilities, and labelling them as high-functioning dismisses their struggles. ‘Low functioning’ implies that the autistic life is a tragedy and a burden, and ‘high functioning’ is often mistaken to mean having savant abilities or to be only mildly or temporarily autistic. This is a vastly over-simplified and detrimental understanding of autistic people.

So please, try not to use functioning labels if you can. ∎

This blog was originally published on the Avon & Somerset Police intranet

Coronavirus: new requirement for face coverings in shops

From the 24th July 2020 it will be mandatory by law to wear a face covering in shops, supermarkets, transport hubs and other enclosed public spaces in England, as part of the effort to curb the spread of coronavirus. Face coverings have been required to be worn on public transport in England since the 15th June. (Different rules apply in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.)

Exemptions apply for disabilities or conditions such as autism where wearing a face covering would cause distress. To assist with explaining the need for an exemption, information cards suitable for displaying on a phone or printing are available on the GOV.UK website (click on the link to access PDF downloads).

Note that it is not a requirement in law to carry an information card or medical evidence supporting an exemption – the Government website advises:

Some people may feel more comfortable showing something that says they do not have to wear a face covering. This could be in the form of an exemption card, badge or even a home-made sign.
This is a personal choice and is not necessary in law.
Those who have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering should not be routinely asked to give any written evidence of this. Written evidence includes exemption cards.

Further resources and advice are available from the National Autistic Society.