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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: kramX on Oct 17, 2010
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‘Do you have any difficulties that I maynot be aware of?’ A study of autismawareness and understanding in theUK police service
Nicholas (Nick) Chown
Email: nick@chown.fsbusiness.co.uk
Date Submitted 25 Aug 2009, Revision Submitted 10 Oct 2009, accepted12 October 2009
Keywords: Autism; Asperger’s syndrome; criminal justice system; policeservice; social learning disability
Nick Chown 
took early retirement from hisformer post of Director of Risk Management atthe Metropolitan Police Service (London, Eng- land) in 2008 to undertake full time study in autism. He became interested in autism through line managing a Metropolitan Police colleaguewith Asperger’s syndrome (AS) traits and under-took a course of study in AS to improve hisunderstanding of the condition. This article is based on work undertaken as a partial require- ment for a Masters degree in autism from Shef-field Hallam University (Sheffield, England).
The autism ‘triad of impairments’ will oftendisadvantage those with autism when they come into contact with the Criminal Justice System(CJS) when compared with people without aut-ism. Existing research suggests that people withdevelopmental disabilities such as autism are between 4 and 10 times more likely to become victims of crime than those without such dis-abilities and may be 10 or more times as likely tobe victims of sexual assault and robbery. Anec-dotal evidence suggests that people with autismare the subject of discrimination in the CJS due to a general lack of awareness and understanding of autism and its implications in that environment.This study seeks to assess the current under-standing of autism awareness and understanding in the UK police service through the means of aquestionnaire, and by comparing the results withan earlier study undertaken by researchers in the USA. The long-term aim is to improve responsesby CJS personnel to those affected by autism.Overall, as a broad generalisation, individual self-assessments of competency indicated that,currently, police officers are probably unable todeal appropriately with persons with autism.However, in many cases, self-assessments mayexaggerate competence. The US study also found that police officers tended to perceive themselves ascompetent when they may not have been. Not one respondent in this study had received training  from the police service fitting him/her to interact effectively with persons on the autism spectrum.
The National Autistic Society in the UKhas proposed that police officers should askthe question ‘Do you have any difficultiesthat I may not be aware of?’ during initialcontact with a person in the course of their duties if the officer has any suspicion, or is
International Journal of PoliceScience and Management,Vol. 12 No. 2, 2010, pp. 256–273.DOI: 10.1350/ijps.2010.12.2.174
Page 256International Journal of Police Science & Management Volume 12 Number 2
told, that the person may have autism.Whilst the Police and Criminal EvidenceAct Codes of Practice refer to
mentallydisordered or mentally handicapped
, and autism is often associated with anintellectual learning disability and/or men-tal health issues, autism is actually a sociallearning disability. Children with autism
have come into the world with innateinability to form the usual biologically pro-vided affective contact with people, just asother children come into the world withinnate physical or intellectual handicaps
(Frith, 1989). Although we have learnt agreat deal about autism in the past 20 years,this core feature remains in any diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders (Graham, 2008).Unless police respond appropriately tothem a person with autism may suffer extreme stress, of 
cers will be unable to dotheir job effectively, disability discrimina-tion legislation
may be breached, and therewill be a risk to the safety of the personwith autism and to the of 
cer(s).Standard psychiatric diagnostic manualsclassify autism as a pervasive developmentaldisorder involving delays in the develop-ment of various basic human functions
rst evident in childhood (WorldHealth Organization, 1992; American Psy-chiatric Association, 2000). There is agree-ment that autism involves delays in threeparticular areas of function (often referredto as the triad of impairment) i.e. socialisa-tion, communication, and imagination (thethird often giving rise to restricted andrepetitive behaviours) with onset in the
rstthree years of childhood and impacts,mainly adverse, throughout life (Wing andGould, 1979). There is as much differencebetween persons with autism as with thosewithout
from individuals who are muteright up those with extremely high IQs
hence the adoption of the term
. There are many more personswith autism at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, often referred to asAsperger 
s syndrome (AS), than at the other end. It has been said that about four or 
ve children per 10,000 have autism, but if AS is included the prevalence rate mayincrease to as many as one per 500 children(Ghaziuddin, 2005). I shall refer again tothe
nding that awareness and understand-ing of AS is considerably lower than that for awareness and understanding of autism (itmay be due to the relatively recent inclu-sion of AS in the standard diagnosticmanuals). The American Psychiatric Asso-ciation diagnostic criteria for AS are atTable 1.There are reports (referred to later) thatautism is a risk factor in relation to certaintypes of crime in that some features of autism may predispose individuals to certaincriminal acts, although other features of autism may have the reverse effect (Frith,1991). But whereas the possible existence of a link between autism and crime remainsuncertain, various aspects of the criminallaw are factors of particular relevance inconnection with autism and issues in rela-tion to socialisation, communication andimagination will put some persons withautism at a disadvantage when in contactwith the criminal justice system (CJS)
incomparison with persons without autism.Existing research suggests that persons withdevelopmental disabilities are between 4and 10 times more likely to become victimsof crime than those without such disabilities(Sobsey et al., 1995). Victimisation rates aresaid to be more than 10 times as high for sexual assault and more than 12 times ashigh for robbery (Modell and Mak, 2008).Anecdotal evidence suggests that personswith autism are the subject of discrimina-tion by the CJS due to a general lack of awareness and understanding of autism andits implications in this context.Research undertaken since the Ghaziud-din study referred to have indicated higher rates for autism spectrum prevalence, for instance the National Autistic Society
ChownPage 257
(NAS) consider around 1 in 100 to be a bestestimate autism spectrum prevalence rate inchildren (National Autistic Society, 2007).No prevalence studies have ever been car-ried out on adults. There is no denying thatprevalence rates have risen in recent years. Itis a matter of debate as to whether there is areal increase in autism, but a prevalence ratein the region of 1 per cent of the popula-tion represents a signi
cant number of people with a 7 times greater risk, onaverage, of becoming a victim of crime thanpersons without autism.
Literature review
Autism spectrum disorders have a specialrelevance to the CJS in a number of ways.There is increasing evidence that autism is arisk factor in relation to certain crime typesin that some features of autism may pre-dispose individuals to certain criminal acts,although other features of autism may havethe reverse effect. Issues in relation tosocialisation, communication and imagina-tion may put those with autism at a dis-advantage when in contact with the CJS
as victims, witnesses and alleged offenders
in comparison with persons withoutautism. Certain aspects of the criminal laware factors that may apply to persons withautism more than they apply to those with-out. Anecdotal evidence suggests that per-sons with autism are the subject of discrimination by the CJS due to a general
Table 1: Diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s disorder (more commonly known asAsperger’s syndrome or AS) according to the Fourth Edition of the Diagnostic andStatistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association [DSM-IV (TR)]
A.Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:1.marked impairment in the use of multiple non-verbal behaviours such as eye-to-eye gaze, facialexpression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction2.failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level3.a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g. bya lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people)4.lack of social or emotional reciprocity.B.Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviours, interests, and activities, as manifested by atleast one of the following1.encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that isabnormal either in intensity or focus2.apparently in
exible adherence to speci
c, non-functional routines or rituals3.stereotyped and repetitive motor mechanisms (e.g. hand or 
apping or twisting, or complexwhole-body movements)4.persistent preoccupation with parts of objects.C.The disturbance causes clinically signi
cant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areasof functioning.D.There is no clinically signi
cant general delay in language (e.g. single words used by age two years,communicative phrases used by age three years).E.There is no clinically signi
cant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriateself-help skills, adaptive behaviour (other than in social interaction), and curiosity about the environmentin childhood.F.Criteria are not met for another speci
c Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Schizophrenia.
Extracted from
The Complete Guide to Asperger 
s syndrome
by Tony Attwood.
 A study of autism awareness and understanding in the UK police servicePage 258

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