Counter-terrorist police launch neurodivergent internship scheme

Investigator Tal Stein shares details of the Supported Internship Scheme for neurodivergent young people piloted within the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU)

More than six years ago, my son received a diagnosis of autism and ADHD. Since then, I’ve done a lot of research and learning, as well as volunteering and fundraising for a local charity, SPACE, that helped us when we received the diagnosis.

From that learning, I discovered that some neurodivergent people enjoy the security that comes from doing tasks that, to a neurotypical person, may feel tedious and repetitive.

I’m a fraud investigator for ERSOU – the job can involve many time-consuming administrative tasks that don’t need to be done by an experienced professional, but are nevertheless vital to our work and need to be completed to a high standard. With my personal combination of knowledge and experience, I suggested bringing in neurodivergent young people on a Supported Internship Scheme to do some of those tasks.

The scheme is ‘supported’ because the intern comes with a job coach provided by the intern’s college, who liaises with the task provider to learn what the task is and then breaks it down into small steps that the coach teaches the intern. Once the intern has mastered the task, the job coach steps away, and the intern gets on with the task on their own.

Our first intern Becky Hart arrived in September 2021, and she has worked on the Bedfordshire Police Pegasus Scheme, sending out packs to members of the public who want to get a Pegasus card. She has also caught up on historical data for the Eastern Cyber Resilience Centre and kept their (very large) database up to date. This work also involved some Companies House research, which she really enjoyed. Lastly, Becky has regularly worked on the Agency & Partners Management Information System (APMIS) for the Regional Organised Crime Threat Assessment Unit, and consistently achieved a 99.4% accuracy on the work she completes!

Recently Becky started to work on making some of the ERSOU Role Profiles accessibility-compliant (changing fonts, layout, colours etc.) She has also completed a number of small one-off jobs, such as using Adobe Acrobat to redact an expert’s report for a jury evidence bundle, and photocopying and assembling cocooning packs ready for distribution.

From being in a working environment for six months, Becky has learnt self-organising skills, gained in confidence and learned to be more resilient. She has now started looking for a permanent job, whilst she still has the support network of her college and her job coach.

The plan is to roll out the scheme across Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire over the next couple of years. ∎

For more information on the ERSOU Supported Internship Scheme, contact us using the Recruitment option

Becky Hart receiving a Commendation for her work with ERSOU from ACC Dan Vajzovic

Autism: challenging the myths

This blog is taken from an email written by a police officer member of the Police Scotland Disability & Carers Association (DACA) in 2021 – it is shared here for World Autism Acceptance Day with the member’s permission

So today is World Autism Awareness Day, and I thought I’d write a little something. I have been reading so many posts online, and unfortunately lots of people think that autistics have zero empathy, can’t hold a conversation, have no friends or relationships and are pretty much destined to fail in life. I wanted to challenge some of these myths and stereotypes and show you that this isn’t the case at all.

Anybody can be autistic – you can’t tell if somebody is autistic by looking at them or even by having a surface level conversation most of the time.

Lots of famous people are/were autistic, Including Charles Darwin, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Albert Einstein. Autistic people are NOT stupid.

Autistic people can have friends and relationships. I am a busy working mum, I’m married, and I have been a police officer for a decade. I also have friends. I will admit I can struggle building new friendships as I’ve never been a ‘huggy’ person, and I always feel a bit socially awkward, but I do have lots of lifelong friends who I know will always support me and have my back.

Not all autistics like trains and maths – lots do and that’s absolutely fine, but often people will have more mainstream interests like bands or animals. These also don’t need to be lifelong interests. They can last weeks, months or even years, but are usually quite intense.

Autism is just as prevalent in females as males – it just often presents differently so is missed or diagnosed much later. Lots of females ‘mask’ or ‘mirror’ behaviours they have seen in an attempt to fit in. They will learn how society expects them to behave and practice this.

Autism is usually hereditary, and not always inherited from a parent – sometimes it is passed from a grandparent or aunt/uncle, but there’s a usually a family connection. 

Autistic people can have empathy – some people actually have so much empathy they don’t know how to channel it. Others can struggle with recognising thoughts and feelings, but it doesn’t mean they don’t care, it just means that they need to work that little bit harder to understand.

Autistic people can hold eye contact. They are just more aware of it, and it’s a conscious effort rather than a natural one.

I was diagnosed with autism around a year ago. My daughter was struggling in school and was referred for an ADHD assessment (again this is hugely misunderstood and isn’t the naughty schoolboy stereotype people imagine, but that’s a whole other story in itself). During the assessment process, the consultant advised me to seek assessment myself, as he suspected I had it too. I did – I was diagnosed with both ADHD and autism, to my surprise. Until now, I hadn’t shared this with many people – I’m not ashamed, I guess I just hadn’t fully processed it myself and was scared people would judge me. I am me. I haven’t changed as a person, but unfortunately people sometimes see a label and have pre-conceived ideas of how you are supposed to look or act, and I didn’t want that.

I don’t really fit the stereotype, so my whole adult life I have been totally unaware why I’ve always felt like I never quite fitted in or why I saw myself as a bit of an outsider. Growing up I had a few close friends, but never fared well in group situations. I do struggle socially, but not in the way people automatically assume when they hear ‘autism’. I’m overly chatty, I often speak too quickly and don’t always notice the tone or volume of my voice. I jump into conversations and often cut people off when they are talking because I don’t always get when it’s my turn to speak. These are all traits of being autistic too.

A lot of people with autism also have a number of sensory issues. For example, to this day I can’t touch raw chicken – I hate the slimy feeling of it and will always ask my husband to cut it for me before cooking, or I pay extra to buy the pre-chopped packs! I also hate itchy woolly jumpers and nylon tights because the material really irritates me.

I massively struggle with executive function skills such as directions too. Ask anybody who knows me or who has worked with me and they will confirm as it’s a bit of a running joke. Thankfully we have sat-navs and Google maps, so it’s never caused me any real issues in my work or personal life. I once went the wrong way when I was driving to Alton Towers though, and ended up driving for two hours in the opposite direction!

People with ASD tend to be very set in their routines too. I have a job that’s structured, so this really suits me. Even when I’m driving home I always tend to go the same way because it’s a route I’m comfortable and familiar with and know well. If there are roadworks or diversions in place this can really stress me out.

I can get overwhelmed quite easily too. At work I need to stay calm and collected (which I have never had any issues with) but it can be exhausting, as you’re so aware of everything you say and do, so will often come home completely drained and not want to join in with family board games/films etc for the rest of the night.

Autism can be a real gift. I have an amazing memory. Just yesterday a colleague asked for a phone number I hadn’t used in years and I remembered it when nobody else did. I notice lots of little details other people don’t too. I am also very aware of the condition so that makes me a great advocate for my kids.

I think the main thing to remember is that autism is a spectrum condition, so not everyone struggles in the same way. It’s wrong to label people and make assumptions, and that’s why I wanted to share my own experience. ∎

“My son needs me”

A wonderful mother, carer, and West Mercia Police staff member has written an emotional blog to mark World Autism Acceptance Week. They have chosen to write this anonymously in their words, from their struggles and their feelings about caring for their non-verbal six-year-old autistic son.

I am my child’s safe space. He doesn’t experience the world as others do, and when I’m not with him it can cause him physical pain – so much that he melts down. Unable to cope, unable to function, he hits out and hurts himself.

My child can’t speak, so he gets frustrated when he can’t make his needs understood. Even when I am with him, sometimes I can’t reassure him enough that scary things are OK.

This week, water is like acid to him – he insists on being carried so the water won’t touch his shoes. It’s not just bath times, he sometimes won’t drink water. We know that next week water will be OK, but there will be another thing.

I’m constantly exhausted. I feel guilty: am I doing enough? Should I be trying this strategy? When I’m awake with him at 2am, researching the internet for the latest therapy that may make his life and our lives easier, my mind wanders towards the future. Being told that he will need lifelong care is scary to me.

I need to work – not just for money but for my mental health. I need to be more – more than a carer, more than a mummy. I need something that is just for me. It’s then that the cycle of guilt starts again.

We need understanding and a bit of compassion. When he’s not at school, my son can only be cared for by three people. Those are me, his dad and our lifeline, his big sister. It has to be someone he knows, someone who can be thinking things 10 steps ahead, so he doesn’t begin to unravel. He can’t cope and hurts himself or others. It needs to be someone who knows how he likes things to be. Someone who can carry a six year-old child, who at times will suddenly need to leave wherever we are. It also needs to be someone who can be fun.

When he is off school sick, on an inset day or during the summer holidays, I do have to drop everything. This affects my leave, pay and hours of work. I need to be able to
take calls from his occupational therapist, speech therapist and dietician. This all has a great impact on my job.

I’m so physically exhausted I can’t think straight, but my son needs me. I’m doing my best, that’s all I can do. ∎

This blog was originally published on the West Mercia Police intranet – it is reproduced here with kind permission of the author