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What it’s like to be a police officer with autism

Discussion in 'Education and Employment' started by AGXStarseed, Sep 16, 2016.

  1. AGXStarseed

    AGXStarseed Well-Known Member

    Jun 13, 2013
    (Not written by me)

    In police dramas, it’s a familiar trope by now: the officer who just sees things differently. From Dr Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, people on the autism spectrum are well established as crime solvers, making connections where others can’t and saving the day.

    In reality, things aren’t so clean-cut. There are advantages to thinking differently in the police service, but there are also challenges. John Nelson, chairman of the National Police Autism Assocation, explains.

    “Asperger’s isn’t an automatic bar to joining, but everyone who wants to be a police officer has got to pass the Assessment Centre and that might be particularly challenging for someone with Asperger’s,” he says.

    “So it’s not an automatic fail, but it may make it more difficult. It affects everyone in a different way. Some people wouldn’t have a problem meeting the requirements, but some people might not be suited to a career in the police service.”

    Challenges in the workplace

    For those who do join, Mr Nelson’s organisation has been providing support since October of last year in the form of a closed web forum and a network of advocates. The main challenge for people on the autism spectrum in the police is not the work itself, he says – “a lot of policing is rule-bound, interpreting law” – but in the workplace, with colleagues and managers who might not be used to dealing with difference.

    “No one has said ‘I’ve found the job really tough’, dealing with the public, the day to day police work,” Mr Nelson says. “But they find how they get treated by other police officers and especially managers quite difficult at times.”

    “I think that’s a reflection on the attitude of the police service towards diversity, which is something we talk a lot about on our Twitter feed. The thing about the police service is they tend to focus on BME (black and minority ethnic) diversity against other forms,” Mr Nelson says.

    Embracing difference

    “And that’s fine, it’s an important aspect of it, but we believe diversity is about embracing all kinds of difference, not just visible difference. The police service has a long way to go in that respect.”

    “It’s about respecting people who might be different to you, think differently, have different values, go about their life differently. The police is still quite a conservative organisation, so we’re trying to publicise and educate people that accepting people who may think differently to you is important as well.”

    People who are good at logical thinking can be drawn to policing, especially in areas such as computer fraud or counter-terrorism, but not all officers arrive into the force knowing that they’re on the spectrum. In fact, it’s common for them to find out much later. “Quite a few of our members have been diagnosed after several years of service,” Mr Nelson says. “A few of those have come about when their children have been diagnosed and they’ve realised they have some of the traits themselves.”

    The NPAA was founded after a support group started by human resources in the Thames Valley Police blossomed into more when officers from other forces started to get in contact. One officer had been diagnosed with Asperger’s and found no support system in place around her. “I started to think, if that’s happening in one force, you can bet that it’s happening in just about all of them,” Mr Nelson says. So he set up the website and forum. “Ever since then, I’ve been surprised at how many people have been coming forward and joining,” he says.

    Lack of understanding

    The group’s advocacy mission takes in promoting best practice for police forces in dealing with people with autism – something which has been a problem in the past. “You can Google stories about people with autism being treated badly for one reason or another, which results in complaints being made and compensation being paid and so on,” Mr Nelson says. “Sometimes this comes down to a lack of understanding from officers.” Last October, for example, Daniel Smith, a 25-year-old with autism, was charged with assault after an alleged attack on him. His father Owen complained that the police mishandled the situation by failing to phone him and appoint a suitable adult to help.

    “What we’re trying to do is promote best practice,” says Mr Nelson. “Some forces are already trying to do really good work – Hampshire Constabulary are already using what are called ‘widget sheets’. They’re laminated sheets of pictograms, and they’re used in the custody centre. They are used to show people with autism who are brought in, in simple terms, what’s going to happen to them, using the pictograms. That’s a really good idea, and we’d like to see that adopted by all forces, or some equivalent.”

    Ideal world

    The National Police Autism Association is still new, but it may yet make its impact felt. How would Mr Nelson like to see the police change in five or ten years as a result of its work?

    “In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be any need for our organisation. I suspect it will still be around then, or if it isn’t around then, then there’ll certainly still be a need for it,” he says.

    “Ultimately what we’d like to see is that people are just accepted for who they are without having to have a label attached to them, and that they’re recognised for their strength. That people can be tolerant and make allowances and then see the strength in people rather than expecting everyone to be the same.”

    LINKS: www.npaa.org.uk / @npaa_uk / www.disabledpolice.info

    SOURCE: https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/uk/like-police-officer-autism/
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  2. the_tortoise

    the_tortoise Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

    Nov 14, 2016
    I hope for that, too.....for the whole world, not just the police.
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  3. Aspergers_Aspie

    Aspergers_Aspie Well-Known Member

    Aug 1, 2016
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  4. Magna

    Magna Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

    Oct 31, 2019
    Never. I think it would be a terrible job for anyone with sensitivities to sound and for anyone who has trouble communicating verbally rapidly in real time. Basically anyone who has challenges with executive functioning. I am such a person.

    When I was in my early twenties I worked closely with the police department as an unarmed security guard in housing projects. It was not the job for me because:

    • People yell.
    • People smell.
    • People use non-verbal communication and it's hard for me to gauge how upset they really are. I tend to underestimate how upset people are until they become explosive.
    • People lie and I tend not to pick up on that.
    • It's difficult for me to focus on many things at once. Having constant situational awareness necessary for a police officer to preserve their safety and focus on the issue at hand at the same time is something I wouldn't be good at. One or the other would suffer.
    I'm not saying that it wouldn't be a good job for ANY autistic person. I just know from that experience that it would not be a good job for me at all.
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  5. Giraffes

    Giraffes Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

    Feb 24, 2020
    Emm no way it would be a terrible fit for me due to my 'Black and White' thinking and taking all people at their word.
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  6. SDRSpark

    SDRSpark Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

    Aug 1, 2019
    Pretty much this.

    I might be a really good detective...if "Sherlock Holmes type person who works alone and spends most of their time in an office studying clues" is an actual job.

    I'd get eaten alive as a beat cop. Period, full stop. I do NOT belong there.
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  7. Aspychata

    Aspychata Serenity waves, beachy vibes

    Feb 12, 2019
    People who smiled and told me a good joke, l wouldn't be able to write parking tickets. If looked like daughter, no ticket. If they look like my ex, l would write five tickets. lol. Maybe l should cross off female police officer on my to do list. But l was so looking forward to donut breaks. Officers got together and opened up a donut shop and have done very well. Called Cops and Donuts in Clare MI.
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2020
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