Celebrating World Autism Awareness Week
It’s World Autism Awareness Week (29 March - 4 April) and to celebrate we’re raising awareness, understanding and acceptance of the realities of autism.
As a force we’re constantly looking at ways we can improve interactions between our officers and autistic people.
Sometimes when people think of autism, they picture a scale such as ‘not autistic to very autistic’, but the condition is not linear and far more complex than this.
As well as social interactions, it affects people in numerous ways and difficulties can include anxiety, rigid/repetitive behaviours and routines, intense interests, as well as sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light, temperatures or pain.
Some individuals can have problems verbalising and picking up social cues, and be unaware of the consequences of their actions or the effect their behaviour will have on others.
These difficulties with social perception and understanding the thoughts and intentions of other people can make autistic people more vulnerable to a range of crimes and lead them to mistake dangerous, exploitative relationships for friendships.
This is why we think it’s incredibly important for our staff and officers to be aware and educated on the condition, which is more prevalent than is often realised – one in 100 people are on the autistic spectrum, which means there’s a high chance that officers will come into contact with autistic people.
We offer training to officers so they can recognise the signs of autism and engage the most effective ways to approach a person who is autistic to help minimise situations of risk or avoid victimisation of the individual.
When assisting a crime victim who is autistic, using the guidance from the National Autistic Society, we are able to provide reasonable adjustments at interview and assess the needs of the individual on a case by case basis.
We believe it’s important to create a supportive, understanding environment that will allow all individuals impacted by autism to feel safe, heard and valued.
We worked with Autism West Midlands to provide a new ‘Alert Card’, which we helped to design, to allow people to disclose their autism diagnosis to others when in difficult or emergency situations.
Several other central England Forces have also signed up to the Alert Card system, including West Mercia, BTP, Warwickshire and Staffordshire Police.
Internally, we have recently formed the WMP Autism and Neurodiversity Group, which supports colleagues impacted by autism and neurodivergent conditions.
This week we will be hosting drop-in sessions and awareness seminars offering advice to anyone working within WMP who has or cares for anyone with autism or a neurodivergent condition. A new focus group is also being formed to increase awareness and understanding of these conditions. The group will be working with Autism West Midlands to help steer improvements across WMP.
Police Sergeant Nick Morton, National Police Autism Association Lead for West Midlands Police, said: “We are committed to improving the awareness of autism and neurodivergent conditions across the organisation in all departments, not only to support our people within it, but so that we can provide a better service to the public also.
“We will continue to provide awareness sessions, support and advise staff and work with partners to improve our understanding as an organisation.”
You can find out more information on World Autism Awareness Week and get involved at autism.org.uk.