Category Archives: Reblog

My diagnosis diary (part 2)

by Superintendent Paul Burrows
Disability Lead | Police Superintendents’ Association

In this second blog about my journey through my assessment for autism and ADHD, I’d like to share my experiences of the self-assessment form I’ve had to complete for autism. I am prepared to bet that some of you who read this will be thinking at the end, ‘well that’s me’. I am predicting, ever more confidently, that policing has a significant number of undiagnosed autistics within its ranks, so please don’t be surprised.

Supt Paul Burrows

A blog about filling forms in? What could be more riveting? If nothing else, it will give an insight into the indicators you may see in yourself or others that would suggest they may be on one spectrum or another. And please don’t sit there thinking, ‘well, everyone’s a little bit autistic’, because they’re not, and saying that is hugely frustrating to those that are; lecture over, sorry.

So, (which I read recently is one of the most-hated ways of starting a sentence), the autism self-assessment form. This is cunningly entitled the ‘AQ-10 Adult’ – I believe this means Autism Question 10! There are 10 questions surprisingly.

Because there are 10 questions, I feel compelled to cover all 10 questions, in order. A precis is not good enough. Perhaps that is evidence in and of itself of my being autistic?

Question 1: Do I notice small sounds when others don’t? Well, when chairing a meeting recently I because obsessed with a clicking noise in the room that no one else seemed to notice, until I pointed it out. At which point everyone seemed to get obsessed with it. I do find background noise hugely frustrating. Please don’t get me onto the subject of music in shops – particularly supermarkets. I mean, WHY? Who chooses the drivel that gets played and why is it so loud?

I recently Googled what music autistic people seemed to prefer – I found one answer that was classical and rock. Well, that’s me down to a tee, so more soothing heavy rock music in supermarkets please, and see what everyone else has to say about it! I’d also ask that you now look out for the ‘autism-friendly’ quiet hours in supermarkets. Wednesday and Saturday 9-10am is one offer. Whilst it’s better than nothing, clearly autistic people don’t want to have a lie in, if indeed they are lucky enough to have a job. The job market can often by a hostile and difficult place for those who are neurodivergent (ND).

Question 2: Do I focus on the big or small picture? Well, that’s an interesting one. I can see big picture and critical path as well as anyone, but only through my focus on the specific details. This is another ND trait: seeing questions from multiple directions. I have found myself frustrating people over the years as I triangulate information with highly detailed questions, testing in my mind whether the big picture strategy will work. I also make movies in my head. So, when I am commanding a public order operation during the planning process, I play the ‘video’ in my head of what is going to happen. Any scenes that are fuzzy or missing need some directing. So, no specific one way or the other answer for me. My ongoing frustration is that many people like me don’t have their skills fully utilised at work. I would ask anyone reading this blog to reflect upon the thorny big picture issues they are dealing with, and seek a neurodivergent approach to tackling the problem – I’m prepared to bet you’ll be surprised by the result and the simplicity of it.

Question 3: Can I multi-task? Definitely not. How people watch TV, read and knit at the same time is completely beyond my understanding. Well in fairness I have never understood knitting patterns, unlike Dumbledore, so knitting alone confuses me. What I can bring however is hyper-focus to a task. Once I get lost in a task, which can take a while if I’m distracted by noise or light, I can emerge hours later in what seems to me to be the blink of an eye.

Feeding off my answer to that question, Question 4 asks how quickly I can return to a task if interrupted. I practice MBWA, Management By Walking About. I just thought that was how I liked to do things, it never occurred to me it might be because I might have ADHD and find it impossible to sit still. Consequently, if distracted, I will usually find something I need to do that involves me walking somewhere to burn off the mental energy to return to task. I am also a big unit as they say, so when I turn up to someone’s desk asking a question, I can be quite hard to ignore. It seems to be an efficient way of doing business when otherwise I would be awaiting a return email that may take days or weeks to arrive. So, I get business done quickly.

I also find myself looking at new emails rather than focussing on the one I’m working on, and this can be distracting. This means that no, I can’t return to task easily. I soon learned to turn off the sound notification of a new email arriving, and that increased my efficiency significantly.

Question 5: Can I easily read between the lines when someone is talking to me? Quite simply – no. I am quite straightforward if someone says something to me, I don’t look for ulterior motive, I don’t communicate like that. I don’t hint – I ask for what I want or say what I mean. Why should others be opaque? I don’t know if this makes me a poor judge of character. This is something I have considered a lot. But knowing others talk differently to me, I do use up a lot of mental energy and lose sleep wondering if there is a hidden meaning in what they are saying to me that I just can’t see or hear. ‘What you see is what you get’ is a saying that reflects me well. Though having said that, I continually mask my true self for fear of my directness upsetting people.

Question 6: Can I tell whether people I’m talking to are getting bored? My issue in answering this question is that I must answer it unmasked, rather than as I would in my normal operating mode. Let’s face it, I have a very low boredom threshold listening to myself talk; my automatic presumption is that anyone I talk to is going to lose interest pretty quickly. So even if they aren’t bored, I think they are. This is a very negative way of thinking I know, but one borne out of years of criticism of the way I communicate.

Consequently, I tend to give pertinent information in short, sharp sound bites that I think will impart all relevant information. I have been accused of holding personal phone calls like a business meeting, and I have all but taken minutes in some of them and asked for AOB. Soft communication that one would expect in a social environment is a real challenge.

The trouble with my staccato communication is it doesn’t always hit the mark, so I have to revisit what I say – there is a huge difference for me in actually boring people and thinking I am boring people. As my working presumption is that most people are bored, I tend not to have learned the cues of whether this is actually the case. I hope that makes sense. The trouble is after years of negative feedback it can sometimes be easier to get the self-defence strike in first, but on myself rather than others. You might think all of this strange, but I will bet that if you spoke to many autistic people, they will reflect a similar view based upon the feedback they have had.

Question 7 particularly tickled me. It is, ‘whether when I’m reading a story, can I work out the characters’ intentions’. Well, this does rather pre-suppose I read fiction. I seem to recall reading an Enid Blyton Famous Five novel around the age of eight; half a century to recall character intentions is a bit of a challenge. I am presently reading through Winston Churchill’s six volume history of World War II, where some of the characters’ intentions were all too painfully apparent, so do I say yes I do, or no I don’t? It’s hard to put caveats to questions that don’t apply.

Question 8: Do I collect information categories – for example, cars, birds, trains or plants? No not really, I have never been one for lining things up in various orders, or re-learning the engine capacities of motorbikes. However, trying to put my CD and DVD collection in order does give me a huge headache. Is it by colour of sleeves which looks prettiest, genre of music/film or alphabetical? To be honest, I find such decisions too stressful to make, so I give a half-hearted attempt to put them in some order, then throw the rest on the shelf because I don’t know whether AC/DC are now rock or metal. This means I always struggle to find what I’m looking for as the filing system doesn’t make sense! It’s like museums – I can’t go into them anymore. The overload of information is so great I have two choices: read everything or read nothing. Nothing it is. I sit outside.

Question 9: Can I work out what someone is thinking or feeling by looking at their face? At the extremes of human emotion – happiness and grief – then yes. The huge gulf between – largely no. I often refer to Sheldon Cooper in the Big Bang Theory TV programme. Whilst not on the same scale as him, I do empathise with his problems reading people.

Finally, Question 10: whether I find it difficult to work out people’s intentions. Yes, really the same as my answer above. Life would be so much easier if people said what they meant, politely but directly.

That is the AQ-10 finished. The list of questions may be of some help to those who have no knowledge of autism assessment and may trigger some thoughts about yourself or friends or family. Please remember my observations are purely personal and are intended to give some insight into the way I think. It will be down to the assessors to decide at some point whether this makes me autistic or not. I will of course share the next stage of my journey and hope this remains helpful for anyone looking to learn more about neurodivergent conditions and their impact on so many. ∎

This blog was originally published on the PSA website – it is reproduced here with kind permission of the author

“I owe my career to dyslexic thinking”

West Midlands Police Assistant Chief Constable Matt Welsted believes he owes his successful career to his dyslexic thinking. He’s telling his story to inspire others that being neurodivergent (ND) doesn’t need to hold you back.

I always hated reading and found the process frustrating, but I didn’t get myself tested for dyslexia until I was nearly 43 years old.

I only got tested then when I finally hit an obstacle that my ways of working couldn’t overcome, but I’m so glad I did.

As a child I didn’t know I was dyslexic, but looking back it was obvious. I saw things differently from my peers, and I found reading and writing hateful and exhausting activities – I just didn’t know why.

ACC Matt Welsted

My education was a mixed bag. I did well in maths and science, all things physical and was confident at speaking and solving problems, but underachieved at English or anything based on reading or writing.

It affected my confidence because others seemed to find this easy, even enjoyable, and I didn’t – so of course, at times I doubted my intelligence and abilities.

I worried about my written work as this was the obvious ‘issue’ for people who criticised it over the years. I learned to hide this away from others or did a lot of redrafting to make sure it was right.

I’ve developed ways of working that help me deal with being dyslexic. These include:

  • I ask for reasonable adjustments for standardised tests – usually extra time and a private room
  • I listen to books and have an app that reads documents
  • I plan where I work so I don’t set myself up to fail – the downside is that I usually spend my working days speaking to people and doing my reading or writing away from others
  • I play to my strengths – I’ve built a career out of doing what I’m good at
  • I manage my focus to make sure I get done what’s important

People with dyslexia or other ND conditions have strengths that are often what policing needs. My innovation, positivity, passionate communication and ability to ‘see’ solutions that others can’t, have helped me serve the public for over 27 years and become a chief officer in England’s second-biggest police force.

It’s true that for dyslexic people to thrive in a police environment, the individual needs to get over some of the obvious challenges – such as statement taking, report writing, handwriting and spelling. Too many colleagues have been criticised or labelled ‘stupid’ because they’ve struggled with these activities.

In 2023, there’s no reason this should be the case. Most of the time, a little support, understanding and some simple adjustments that are free or cheaply available is all that’s needed.

I know how hard it is to face up to your challenges and ask for support, but it’s worth it. It gave me answers, insights and the ability to understand myself.

I believe that tolerating or even accepting difference is not enough: we should seek out difference for the value it adds. ∎

This blog was originally published on the West Midlands Police LinkedIn page as part of Dyslexia Awareness Week – it is reproduced here with kind permission of the author

My diagnosis diary

Police Superintendents’ Association Disability Lead Superintendent Paul Burrows writes candidly about his experience of undergoing assessments for autism and ADHD


My name is Paul Burrows.

I’ve decided to start a regular blog that will outline my journey though diagnosis – or at least assessment and treatment – for being autistic and having ADHD.

I feel it is important to outline this journey, to illustrate the trials and tribulations, but also the challenges faced by colleagues and individuals in society more broadly.

Supt Paul Burrows

I’m one of the fortunate ones as I can afford to pay £600 to £1,000 for a private assessment. Others can face anywhere from two to five years to access the NHS assessment process. Imagine starting your career as a police officer or police staff member and needing support, but having to wait five years for it. If you broke your leg and waited five years to have it put in a cast, imagine what shape it would be in.

So why am I at this juncture in my life, seeking to be diagnosed? As a 58-year-old father of two, I have reverse-diagnosed the likelihood of me being autistic. This is not uncommon.

Having gone through the assessment journey as a family, relating to one of my children, it became apparent that the traits and behaviours being focused on during this process were traits and behaviours I also demonstrated.

Initially this caused me to be diagnosed as dyslexic, but then the epiphany: I am autistic as well. I undertook the AQ50 self-assessment and scored well into the 40s. It is worth saying at this point that the AQ50 is seen as being very good at diagnosing white men. Autism is however ‘skin and gender colour-blind’ and there is significant under-diagnosis amongst females and in other communities. So please don’t think only white men are autistic – nothing could be further from the truth.

I did however decide a couple of years ago, that at my age and length of service, there was no huge benefit in getting a formal diagnosis. Well, I’m also a skinflint and I didn’t want to spend the money. However, on learning more about ADHD and it occurring to me that I probably have that as well, the need for a diagnosis was confirmed. At first, my reaction was “How could I have ADHD? I’m not a naughty person, I wasn’t naughty at school.” The worst I ever got on my school report was that “Paul is prone to distracting others” – a direct quote that has stayed with me. This shows the strange associations we can have with these terms.

It never occurred to me that this condition could apply to me. It also never occurred to me that my ‘average’ academic capability might have been caused by something deeper. After all, I wasn’t in the ‘remedial class’, as it was called then.

So to the dark bit of my story. There is no getting away from the hard reality of the impact of autism on my mental health. As I have written in another blog, those who are autistic are seven times more likely to commit suicide or attempt it. I am not yet one of those numbers, but I have got close. If you are not neurodivergent yourself, then your family members, friends or colleagues may be struggling with their mental health because of who they are.

“I have been described as quirky and odd far too many times over the years – two words I have come to loathe as descriptors. I have never really been accepted for being me.”

Supt Paul Burrows

I therefore applaud the PSA and CPOSA for recently setting up the mental health support line for members. I am happy to say that I have availed myself of their services and would strongly recommend getting in touch with JustB. It doesn’t take long to realise that asking for help is the best thing to do. I have always been too proud to ask for help. I’m a senior officer with lots of operational responsibility, a sportsman who has taken part in significant physical challenges – I’m tough. In fact I’m bloody tough. I don’t need help. But this time, I did.

So finally at breaking point, I got in touch with my GP – a man who is a true beacon for the NHS. My expectations were low. I expected to simply be prescribed some anti-depressants and be told to get some counselling. He thought differently, and I was pleasantly surprised. He gave me some self-assessment forms for autism and ADHD and recommended a formal assessment. A friend who is diagnosed with ADHD and who is medicated has applauded this decision. Indeed, this same friend has said that it is obvious that I have ADHD. At times, it is obvious who we are to everyone but ourselves.

So why the blog? Putting it out there is scary, but also – in a strange way – easy. Perhaps that’s part of my dissociative brain – it isn’t actually me writing the blog! One of my sons wants to join the job, and so I am determined to help the Service develop, so it can recruit, support, nurture and actively seek those who are neurodivergent. My story may assist with this.

There is of course the potential that my assessment will come back as being not diagnosed. I will live with that if it happens, but I know it won’t be the case. When I told a colleague a couple of years ago that I thought I was autistic he said, “Of course you are Paul, I knew that years ago”. I did think, “well why didn’t you tell me?”

I now provide neurodivergence awareness training in-Force, and explain that I used to provide sporting opportunities for those with traumatic physical disabilities, frequently ex-service people. I was constantly told that that it took seven years of ‘grieving’ to come to terms with the injury. My lived experience is that a formal or informal diagnosis of autism or ADHD has a similar life-event impact. It is my view that the earlier the diagnosis, the better. I have five decades of life to look back over, and to reflect upon how I perceive myself, which is fundamentally different to how others see me. I have been described as quirky and odd far too many times over the years – two words I have come to loathe as descriptors. I have never really been accepted for being me. At least, it doesn’t feel that I am, until people spend some significant time with me. I didn’t and don’t fit the norm. My aim is to encourage the non-neurodivergent to look at the neurodivergent as being ‘normal’, whatever that means.

I will update my blog as my assessment progresses – hopefully with humour and perhaps at times, some pathos. My plea to anyone reading this is: consider your friends and family, staff and colleagues who may be struggling, who may be being disciplined for poor performance, or who may be being ostracised for being different. It may be that person is neurodivergent but doesn’t know it, knows it but doesn’t feel able to share it, or just needs consideration for being neurodivergent. Please have this is in the back of your mind.

To end on a slightly lighter note: we are developing a programme of work to train work-based assessors to review the working environment and requirements of those who are identified as being neurodivergent. The problem we had is that a group of dyslexic officers wrote the paper. The one person involved who was not dyslexic has ADHD, and got bored after two pages of proof-reading. We therefore had to go outside for help to make sure sent copies weren’t just random letters underlined in red!

Being neurodivergent is a challenge and extremely tiring for some – it is for me. But it can be very funny at times, not least because how I/we look at the world differently. But it also means that skills exist that the police service desperately needs, to help look beyond the proverbial box. If we don’t start to do this now, other companies and industries are wising up to this and are starting direct recruitment. Neurodivergence is a challenge and a battle, but is also the door to unique and incredible skills and ways of thinking that have huge value to the police and other sectors.

To be continued! ∎

This blog was originally published on the PSA website – it is reproduced here with kind permission of the author