Devon & Cornwall Police have introduced a new sensory tool to help support neurodivergent student officers
The new Sensory Library Squares were developed by Samboards and were funded from a grant allocated to the National Police Autism Association by the NPCC. They will be used primarily to support students who are suspected or diagnosed as having a neurodivergent condition.
The sensory boards are designed to help persons with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or sensory issues within the classroom environment. Side effects of ADHD and autism can make it more challenging for students to participate in study and other activities, so using a sensory board can help increase concentration and assist with focusing.
John Holland, NPAA lead coordinator and Neurodiversity Support Network Peer Support SPOC for Devon & Cornwall Police, said: “The approach the Performance & Inclusion team are utilising to support neurodiverse student officers has been recognised by the College of Policing as a supportive measure to ensure our officers are being given an equally opportunity to thrive within the learning environment, and is just one of many supportive measures we are exploring.”
I’m very open about the personal challenges I face when it comes to my neurodivergence. My message is however a positive one, in that being neurodivergent does give me different abilities and indeed a different outlook on life that can if nothing else makes me laugh at the oddities I perceive. Additionally, networking with others who are neurodivergent has opened friendships that I haven’t had before, with people who understand where I am coming from without me having to explain myself or the way I think.
So, to me. I have a diagnosis of dyslexia and am currently going through the formal process of being assessed for being autistic and having ADHD.
I say this because I believe I am one of hundreds within the police workforce living with these conditions, but unfortunately, I am probably one of the few that feels able to share this. Not enough people have a medical diagnosis to help understand why life can feel harder than it should, and as a profession I don’t believe we ask enough questions to better understand and support our people. If we don’t understand our people, how can we begin to understand the needs of our communities?
To start, we have a huge untapped resource out there – in the people we haven’t proactively recruited into policing, and in the potential within our own people which is not being harnessed because we are not utilising the best of their abilities. Now, knowing who I am, I can look at my work and my life differently, which has been a real positive for both me and all those around me, I like to think.
Before I became a police officer, much of my career focus was around disability and inclusion. From volunteering to working for charities and a local council, I found a passion for creating opportunities for those with disabilities.
Because of this, I was 30 before I joined the police – a ‘late’ joiner compared to many.
My belief is that policing is a career to which many people who are neurodivergent are attracted, as research suggests conditions like dyslexia align with a strong sense of empathy. There is also a perception that policing will attract those who are autistic, because of the way our brains work as problem-solvers.
For me, each day at work is utterly exhausting, but probably for different reasons than you’d expect. Yes, I’m extremely busy as we all are, but I also find that throughout the day, I ‘act’. I am not being my true self. I am incredibly uncomfortable in busy social situations, I dislike physical contact so I hate shaking people’s hands, I find making conversation with people I don’t know difficult, and long meetings are impossibly difficult for me. I therefore must be someone I’m not, to engage in all these ‘normal’ parts of working life that are expected in our workplaces.
I am lucky to have a number of adjustments to my working life that support my specific needs. My office is purposely dim in lighting with no distractions whatsoever on the walls, I have software on my computer to help me with typing, and I have started to tell my colleagues when I’ve reached ‘burnout’ in meetings. Let’s face it – who wouldn’t want shorter meetings?
I cannot imagine what it would be like to have none of this understanding and to carry on with my work hiding or not even being aware of all of this. However, that is the reality for many of our colleagues, and it should not be.
Within Nottinghamshire Police, my own Force, we screen all new starters for dyslexia. We are finding indicatively about 20% have scores that are suggestive of dyslexia. This is a significant percentage and something which must be key to our understanding of our workforce and our responsibility to support them.
I believe that the work we have already done and the results we have achieved in-Force, have made the working environment for neurodivergent people better – and in some cases, much better – enabling them to flourish. There are real positives in doing this work and continuing to do it.
Thankfully, we are talking more and more about neurodivergent conditions such as these, and when I carry out training within my Force, I regularly hear and see people ‘reverse diagnosing’ themselves because they can relate so closely to the challenges of autism, ADHD or dyslexia they hear about in others. In my view we should be screening for autism and ADHD as standard in the same way we screen for dyslexia – however, post-screening support if there were a positive indication is a thorny issue we are trying to resolve.
Our workforce has undergone the biggest wholesale change in its history in the last two years, as we’ve recruited 20,000 new officers into the service at one time. It’s critical that we work to understand the protected characteristics of these colleagues, how we support those who have a visible or invisible disability, and how we support those who are going through a diagnosis, or are in need of one.
Currently, many of our fundamental processes are not geared up to be inclusive for those who are neurodivergent. I am a Superintendent and have only ever passed one interview in my entire policing career.
I was very lucky to be selected on what was the accelerated promotion scheme after my first few months of work, which took me up to Chief Inspector rank. I passed my interview for Superintendent, but know I was nowhere near the ‘top’ of the applicants who passed in terms of interview scoring, and I’m in no doubt that if standard interviews had been the key to my career progression, I would have failed. That’s because interviews are virtually impossible for me. For me, the format of the questions and the pressurised environment cause mental overload, and would get the worst reflection of me as a police officer and as an individual, not the best.
In our Force, we allow all interviewees to have sight of the questions 10 minutes before they will be asked. Senior officers have said that when this first happened, it prompted the most successful interview cohort they had ever had. This doesn’t only need to be for colleagues with disabilities or neurodivergence – it should be for all. Surely our goal is to allow people to show us their best.
This is also the case with exams. Every person will interpret a question differently, but this is even more stark in those with dyslexia. Many would also be aware that very basic things such as the layout of the sentences on a page, or the format a question is presented in, can pose massive problems for people with dyslexia. The ’justified’ sentence structure is terrible for someone who is dyslexic because if you’re skipping lines unconsciously, it’s almost impossible to find your place in the text again. Exams should be a test of knowledge, not of interpretation, so I’m pleased that these are now being reviewed to be far more inclusive to all.
We should also not forget the mental health and wellbeing impact of living with a neurodivergence. If you are autistic, you are seven times more likely to commit or attempt suicide – a shocking statistic. Anyone who is diagnosed – and this is happening in adulthood far more often today – is at the start of a long journey. For me, the realisation of my autism and ADHD made all the battles I have faced over the years make sense. Now, despite my career in policing nearing its end, I am resolutely focused on making sure that the service is more accommodating of people who are neurodivergent and who have disabilities, and that it proactively seeks to employ more people with these conditions, who have so much to offer. We should ask questions of our recruits – current and potential – and offer them roles that suit their unique needs and abilities.
So, my call to everyone reading this would be to consider your colleagues:
Consider the officer who continually stays to work late as they’re trying to get things done – are they battling an impossible workload, or are they actually struggling to complete administrative tasks at the speed of others and trying to hide this?
Consider the colleague who is constantly doodling in a meeting – are they being rude, or are they using a tactic to help them concentrate?
Consider the colleague who does not want to attend the leaving ‘do’, despite being a friend of the department – are they ‘anti-social’ because they’re no fun, or because large social occasions are incredibly difficult for them?
If we understand, we can support. If we can support, we become an environment that really is welcoming for all. ∎
This blog was originally published on the PSA website – it is reproduced here with kind permission of the author
The Vice-Chair of the National Police Autism Association has been recognised for his outstanding career in digital policing in this year’s King’s Birthday Honours list.
Former Hampshire & Isle of Wight Constabulary Chief Inspector Nick Elton has received a King’s Policing Medal after 29 years of distinguished public service across police forces in Cleveland, Surrey, Wiltshire and Hampshire, as well as the College of Policing.
Nick joined Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary in 2017 at the rank of Chief Inspector, leading the force’s Digital Intelligence and Investigations team in finding new ways officers could capitalise on new technologies.
One of the most significant legacies of his career was while serving with the College of Policing where he delivered the Digital Media Investigator role across the 48 UK police forces as well as the National Crime Agency.
In Hampshire, Nick also created and hosted the Force’s Digital Discovery Workshop events. Attended by hundreds of policing professionals, these innovative events featured speakers from international intelligence services and leading industry figures to share tactical advice on digital investigations and raise awareness of cyber enabled crime.
His influence in this area extends beyond policing into wider industry and academia where his knowledge and insight is highly regarded and sought after. He is a Visiting Professor at Birmingham City University, a Chartered Security Professional, a Chartered Manager and a Fellow of the British Computer Society, the Institute of Directors, the Security Institute and the Chartered Management Institute.
As Vice-Chair of the NPAA, Nick is a strong and public ambassador for neurodiversity in policing. He was also a Police Federation representative between 2010 and 2017.
Recently retired, Nick has worked tirelessly to keep policing ahead of how technology is being used by criminals. His work in shaping and driving the UK policing response to cyber and digital crime has been pivotal and transformed the national landscape.
Reacting to this honour, Nick said: “I would like to express my deepest gratitude and immense honour upon being nominated for a King’s Policing Medal. Words cannot adequately convey the depth of my appreciation for this recognition, it is better than winning the lottery!
“This is a momentous occasion in my life, as it signifies the acknowledgment of my efforts and contributions not only to policing locally within Hampshire and Thames Valley but also nationally. But this is really a collective award, it is a testament to the hard work, dedication, and passion of those who I have worked and served with in the pursuit of common organisational goals. Knowing that our collective endeavours have been recognised. This award is a testament to the effort of those who have stood by me.
“I am incredibly honoured to have served as Vice-Chair of the National Police Autism Association. The remarkable growth of the NPAA, now the fourth largest Police Staff Association in England, is a testament to the unwavering dedication and tireless efforts of our Chair, John, our exceptional current and former Executive Team, and our invaluable coordinators and members across the country. Day by day, they selflessly work to support and uplift their fellow staff members who face daily challenges. In the face of adversity, our coordinators embrace each challenge as an opportunity for personal and collective growth, fostering greatness within our Association and beyond. Our journey towards success is marked by the resilience and determination we have all shown in overcoming obstacles. Together, we have built a thriving community that empowers and inspires. The impact we have made is a testament to the power of our collective unity and unwavering commitment.
“The support and encouragement that I have received whilst with Hampshire & Isle of Wight Constabulary has been instrumental in my personal and professional growth. I am truly grateful for the opportunities that have presented and for believing in my abilities.
“I would also like to express my appreciation to the distinguished individuals who were involved in the selection process. Their discerning judgment and commitment to recognising outstanding achievements have made this honour all the more meaningful.
“I have served in a number of Forces across my career but my time in Hampshire was definitely the most enjoyable. If anyone is thinking of a career in policing I couldn’t recommend Hampshire enough as it is such a positive place to work, particularly for neurodivergent people.”
Chief Constable Scott Chilton said: “I am delighted that Nick has been honoured in this way for his expertise and leadership in digital policing and cyber security.
“His commitment and passion has meant policing both locally and nationally has a far better understanding of the threats posed by cyber criminals, and we know from our communities that his work with businesses has had a direct impact on raising awareness and crucially preventing victims of these sorts of crimes.
“On behalf of the whole Force I would like to congratulate Nick on his well-deserved KPM.” ∎
This article was originally published on the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Constabulary website – it is reproduced and updated here with kind permission of Nick Elton