An online survey gathered the experiences and views of 394 police officers (from England and Wales) regarding autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Just 42 % of officers were satisfied with how they had worked with individuals with ASD and reasons for this varied. Although officers acknowledged the need for adjustments, organisational/time constraints were cited as barriers. Whilst 37 % of officers had received training on ASD, a need for training tailored to policing roles (e.g., frontline officers, detectives) was identified. Police responses are discussed with respect to the experiences of the ASD community (31 adults with ASD, 49 parents), who were largely dissatisfied with their experience of the police and echoed the need for police training on ASD.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
The UK government comprises England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; however, for this study, only England and Wales are considered as they share the relevant legal framework.
Note: The ASD community surveys asked about experiences of the CJS (from initial encounters with police through to experiences during a court case, if appropriate). All respondents completed the section about their views and experiences of the police (reported in this paper), but those respondents whose cases progressed to court were asked to complete further questions about these experiences. The latter data is not reported in this paper, but is available by contacting the authors. Note that scores regarding ‘overall satisfaction with the CJS’ (on page 14) may or may not include the respondents’ views on the court process.
We use the term “ASD community” to refer collectively to adults with autism (Adults) and parents/carers of children and adults with autism (Parent/carer).
The discrepancy in the reported provision rates of AAs between police and ASD community responses may be due to unclear phrasing of the question and a lack of awareness by the ASD community that AAs are only provided for suspects and not victims/witnesses and that there is a distinction between ‘Supporter’, ‘Appropriate Adult’ and ‘Intermediary’ roles. Thus encounters as a victim/witness may have been included in responses, lowering provision rates. Due to the structuring of the questionnaire it is not possible to disentangle this issue further.
Note that the survey did not specifically ask whether people with autism not identify themselves if they were asked directly (as the police may do with those they believe may be ‘vulnerable’) or would they not volunteer this information.
Adebowale V. (2013). The independent commission on mental health and policing report. London.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Autism West Midlands (2015). Autism and the criminal justice system: Advice and guidance for professionals. Retrieved from: http://www.autismwestmidlands.org.uk/upload/pdf_files/1406643451_InformationSheets_CJS_Web.pdf.
Beadle-Brown, J., Richardson, L., Guest, C., Malovic, A., Bradshaw, J., & Himmerich, J. (2014). Living in fear: Better outcomes for people with learning disabilities and autism. Main research report. Canterbury: Tizard Centre, University of Kent.
Bradley, K. (2009). The bradley report. London: COI for the Department of Health.
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101. doi:10.1191/1478088706qp063oa.
Brosnan, M., & Mills, E. (2015). The effect of diagnostic labels on the affective responses of college students towards peers with “Asperger’s Syndrome” and “Autism Spectrum Disorder”. Autism. doi:10.1177/1362361315586721.
Cascardi, M., Poythress, N. G., & Hall, A. (2000). Procedural justice in the context of civil commitment: An analogue study. Behavioral Science and the Law, 18, 731–740. doi:10.1002/bsl.421.
Clarke, C., & Milne, R. (2001). National evaluation of the PEACE investigative interviewing course. London: Home Office.
Cummins, I. (2011). ‘The Other Side of Silence’: The role of the appropriate adult post-bradley. Ethics and Social Welfare, 5(3), 306–312. doi:10.1080/17496535.2011.597163.
Dando, C., Wilcock, R., & Milne, R. (2008). The cognitive interview: Inexperienced police officers’ perceptions of their witness/victim interviewing practices. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 13(1), 59–70. doi:10.1348/135532506X162498.
Department of Health. (2010). Fulfilling and rewarding lives: The strategy for adults with autism in England. London: Department of Health.
Department of Health. (2014). Think autism: Fulfilling and rewarding lives, the strategy for adults with autism in England: an update. London: Department of Health.
H.M. Government. (2009). Autism act. London: HMSO.
H.M. Government. (2010). Equality act. London: Office for Disability Issues.
Huws, J. C., & Jones, R. S. P. (2011). Missing voices: Representations of autism in British newspapers, 1999–2008. British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 39(2), 98–104. doi:10.1111/j.1468-3156.2010.00624.x.
King, C., & Murphy, G. H. (2014). A systematic review of people with autism spectrum disorder and the criminal justice system. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(11), 2717–2733. doi:10.1007/s10803-014-2046-5.
Lind, E. A., & Tyler, T. R. (1988). The social psychology of procedural justice. New York: Plenum Press.
Lindblad, F., & Lainpelto, K. (2011). Sexual abuse allegations by children with neuropsychiatric disorders. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 20(2), 182–195. doi:10.1080/10538712.2011.554339.
Livingston, J. D., Desmarais, S. L., Verdun-Jones, S., Parent, R., Michalak, E., & Brink, J. (2014). Perceptions and experiences of people with mental illness regarding their interactions with police. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 37, 334–340. doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2014.02.003.
Maras, K. L., & Bowler, D. M. (2010). The cognitive interview for eyewitnesses with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40(11), 1350–1360. doi:10.1007/s10803-010-0997-8.
Maras, K. L., & Bowler, D. M. (2014). Eyewitness testimony in autism spectrum disorder: A review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(11), 2682–2697. doi:10.1007/s10803-012-1502-3.
Mattison, M. A., Dando, C., & Ormerod, T. (2015). Sketching to remember: Episodic free recall task support for child witnesses and victims with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(6), 1751–1765. doi:10.1007/s10803-014-2335-z.
Mayes, T. A. (2003). Persons with autism and criminal justice: Core concepts and leading cases. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 5(2), 92–100. doi:10.1177/10983007030050020401.
Medford, S., Gudjonsson, G. H., & Pearse, J. (2003). The efficacy of the appropriate adult safeguard during police interviewing. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 8(2), 253–266. doi:10.1348/135532503322363022.
Milne, R., & Bull, R. (2002). Back to basics: A componential analysis of the original cognitive interview mnemonics with three age groups. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 16(7), 746–753. doi:10.1002/acp.825.
Milton, D. (2014). Autistic expertise: A critical reflection on the production of knowledge in autism studies. Autism, 18(7), 794–802. doi:10.1177/1362361314525281.
Ministry of Justice. (2011). Achieving best evidence in criminal proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures. London: Ministry of Justice.
Ministry of Justice. (2012). The registered intermediary procedural guidance manual. London: Ministry of Justice.
National Autistic Society (2011). Autism: A guide for criminal justice professionals. Retrieved from: http://www.autism.org.uk/working-with/criminal-justice/a-guide.aspx.
Office, Home. (1999). Youth justice and criminal evidence act. London: HMSO.
Office, Home. (2011). National appropriate adult network: Guide for appropriate adults. London: HMSO.
Pellicano, E., Dinsmore, A., & Charman, T. (2014). What should autism research focus upon? Community views and priorities from the UK. Autism, 18, 756–770. doi:10.1177/1362361314529627.
Plotnikoff, J., & Woolfson, R. (2015). Intermediaries in the criminal justice system: Improving communication for vulnerable witnesses and defendants. Bristol: Policy Press.
Watson, A. C., & Angell, B. (2007). Applying procedural justice theory to understanding police interactions with persons who have mental illness. Psychiatric Services, 58, 787–793.
Woodbury-Smith, M., & Dein, K. (2014). Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and unlawful behaviour: Where do we go from here? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(11), 2734–2741. doi:10.1007/s10803-014-2216-5.
ZH v The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis (2012). EWHC 604 (QB).
We gratefully acknowledge the police, as well as the adult and parent respondents, who generously gave their time to publicise and/or complete our survey. This work was completed under Grants to the first two authors from the Economic and Social Research Council (Grant Numbers ES/J020893/1 and ES/J003379/1).
KM and LC jointly conceived the study, participated in its design, coordination, analyses and drafted the manuscript; SM, TH and AM participated in the design and interpretation of the data and assisted in drafts of the manuscript; TH performed the qualitative analysis, alongside LC and KM. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Laura Crane and Katie L. Maras have contributed equally to this work.
About this article
Cite this article
Crane, L., Maras, K.L., Hawken, T. et al. Experiences of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Policing in England and Wales: Surveying Police and the Autism Community. J Autism Dev Disord 46, 2028–2041 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-016-2729-1
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Criminal justice system