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What is neurodiversity?

Put simply, it is the concept of different types of brain and thinking styles within the human population. Applied to the workplace, neurodiversity mainly concerns four conditions – autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD – each of which brings particular difficulties and abilities, depending on the individual. We believe that these abilities – for example, ‘outside the box’ thinking and a single-minded focus on problems – can provide a significant advantage to policing.

More information on neurodiversity (ND) and neurodivergent conditions can be found in our neurodiversity glossary.

I’d never heard of a police autism association – where did you come from?

The NPAA began as a local autism support group for police officers and staff, and launched nationally in October 2015. At the time there was no dedicated support for autism in the UK police service, and neurodiversity was virtually unheard of. We soon expanded our remit to cover all ND conditions and to champion ND as a vital part of diversity and inclusion within policing.

There are autistic police officers? Really?

Yes, really. Officers on the autism spectrum can be found at all levels of the police service. Some were diagnosed with the condition after several years’ service, having successfully passed the entry assessment centre alongside non-ND (or ‘neurotypical’ – NT) candidates.

But don’t you need to be able to communicate well and understand people as a police officer?

Yes – but autism doesn’t necessarily stop someone from being able to communicate or empathise. It can make it more difficult, but difficulties can be overcome with practice and determination. Communication is a skill that all police officers develop during their training and with experience. It’s also a myth that autistic people don’t have empathy – they experience feelings just as keenly as others, but may find it difficult to express them.

Those amazing autistic memory skills I’ve heard about must come in useful?

No, that’s just in the movies. Savant syndrome (to use the correct term) is very rare, and those individuals who do show profound abilities in certain areas (e.g. mathematics, art, music) are often severely disabled in others and cannot lead independent lives.

How many autistic/ND police officers are there?

Impossible to say at the present time. Some officers who are or believe they are neurodivergent choose not to declare their condition, or to have a formal diagnosis. One of the aims of the NPAA is to remove the stigma that surrounds autism and other ND conditions: they are, and always have been, part of what makes us human and are nothing to be ashamed of.

How are you funded?

The NPAA is owned, funded and run by a serving police officer, with assistance from colleagues across the UK. Expenses are covered by a NPCC grant and our members’ police forces. We do not charge membership fees.

Although we are supported as a national police staff network by the NPCC and College of Policing, the NPAA is an independent group – we do not claim to represent Government policy or the views of the police service.

Do I need to have been diagnosed with autism or other ND condition to join the NPAA?

No – any police employee or volunteer is welcome to join us. For example, you might be:

  • A police officer, special constable, PCSO or staff member who shows some traits of a ND condition but hasn’t been formally diagnosed
  • A line manager responsible for a team member affected by autism or dyslexia
  • A parent of a child with dyspraxia or ADHD
  • Working in an HR or diversity champion role
  • Working with autistic members of public

Whatever your interest, you’re welcome to be part of our community. Click on the Membership page for more info.

You mentioned you have a web forum – how does it work?

Web forums, or message boards, are one of the oldest forms of social media, having been around since the 1990s. They work just like status updates and comments on Facebook: members can start conversations (‘threads’) and reply to other members’ messages. Threads are organised into folders based on topic (e.g. work, family) so you can easily find conversations on whatever you want to discuss. Web forums are simpler and easier to use than Facebook, you can search on keywords or phrases to find what you need, and you won’t get plagued with spam and Candy Crush requests 🙂

If you want to see what a web forum looks like, check out Digital Spy, one of the UK’s busiest forums devoted to TV shows and broadcasting.

Where can I get support in my Force?

Get in touch with your local NPAA Coordinator(s) – you can find them on our members’ web forum (if you’re not a member, register here), or alternatively drop us a message with your work email address using the Officer & Staff Support option.

I think I may be on the autism spectrum – how do I get assessed?

Autism assessments are provided by the NHS for adults and children, although the process can take 12 months or more depending on your location. The first stage is to speak to your GP, who will refer you to a clinical psychologist. You may also wish to take an online questionnaire, which will give you an idea of whether you may be on the autism spectrum. The National Autistic Society has a comprehensive guide to the assessment process on its website.

For links to these and other useful resources, visit our Links page.

Why the jigsaw piece in your logo?

The jigsaw piece is the internationally-recognised symbol of autism, and is over 50 years old. It is controversial – a quick Google search will show that people tend to be passionately for or against it. The four interlocking puzzle pieces used in our logo (an important distinction from a single piece) represent the main ND conditions we support, and also symbolise unique individuals melding together to make a whole – a positive message about the value of difference.

Photo © Whitehill Junior School