Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder.
What this means
Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that it appears in a range of forms and levels of severity. Some individuals develop typical capabilities in terms of speech and language – and develop exceptional skills – but struggle with lifelong social and behavioral differences. Others may have challenges in communication, sensory sensitivities, and behavioral issues, such as excessive tantrums, repetitive behaviors, aggression, and self-harm. The word ‘spectrum’ is used because autism affects people in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively ‘everyday’ lives; others will require a lifetime of specialist support.
At the police station
It is important the police know that a child is autistic. This may affect how the police treat a child, how the police view the child’s behaviour and whether the child gets a criminal record. Adaptations (changes) can be made to how the police conduct a police interview to make it easier for a child with autism to give their best evidence. An intermediary can help with communication and there must be an appropriate adult (see effective participation at the police station). Read the National Autistic Society handbook, Autism: a guide for police officers and staff.
Witnesses and victims
If a child is autistic and they are a witness or a victim, it is important to tell the police. Adaptations (changes) can help the child give a statement to the police. The child may need an intermediary or other special measures to help them give their best evidence in court.
Representations to the police
It may not be appropriate to criminalise children with autism. Lawyers, parents and guardians should provide evidence of a child being autistic and explain why the police should take no further action. Reasons may include:
- the child’s autistic behaviour was misunderstood/misinterpreted and therefore it would not be in the public interest to pursue a police investigation
- an informal out of court disposal, a community resolution, youth caution or youth conditional caution may be appropriate
- it would not be in the public interest to prosecute a child with autism because they would not be able to understand what happens at court or effectively participate in the court process
If a child has autism, adaptations (changes) can help an autistic child understand court hearings. For example,
- Keep language clear, concise and simple
- Use short sentences
- Use their name at the start of each sentence so they know they are being addressed
- Avoid the use of any irony, sarcasm or metaphors, as these could be taken literally
- Ask specific questions that avoid ambiguity
- Be aware that they may simply repeat back the question they were asked
- Allow them extra thinking time to process the information
- Keep your facial expressions and hand gestures to a minimum
- Allow regular breaks for movement
- Provide the opportunity to doodle, therapy cushion, use of a stress ball. Explaining that fidgeting is not a sign of disrespect
- Consider using an intermediary for communication help
- The use of visual aids may be helpful
- an expert explaining what autism means