April is Autism Awareness Month - we continue our series of articles focussing on autism and autistic people throughout the month.
Police recruits in the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland and now South Australia will undertake autism training to broaden their understanding when interacting with autistic people.
South Australia Police (SAPOL), in partnership with Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), recently announced all new recruits would take part in a training module as a result of research into improving interactions with police.
According to the Aspect, previous research has shown that people on the autism spectrum may be more likely to have interactions with police than the non-autistic population.
This may be associated with some of the traits and behaviours of autism, which may also affect the nature of the interactions that autistic people have with police.
In other countries, police have generally reported feeling confident and competent in interacting with autistic people, while autistic adults have predominantly reported low levels of satisfaction with their interactions with police.
However, Aspect says, there is no recent information about the experiences of people on the autism spectrum when interacting with police in Australia.
The online autism training module was developed by the Aspect Research Centre for Autism Practice, the research arm of the nation’s largest autism-specific service provider, Aspect.
The research focussed on people with Autism and their families, encouraging them to speak about their interactions with police and suggesting areas of improvement.
Fifty adults diagnosed with Autism and 65 parents/carers took part in the study with many of the adults reporting they felt intimidated or misunderstood by police, with 68% of those adults NOT disclosing their autism to police.
The parents/carers in the study gave examples of police going to great lengths to help their child and and accommodate them, with 64% of those carers disclosing to police their child’s diagnosis.
As a result, an interactive online training module to help police understand the sensory difficulties, meltdowns and difficulties processing verbal information was produced.
Read more about the research study here.
Since the module’s inception, it has been rolled out across several states, with SAPOL the latest police force to adopt the training.
“There are around 25,000 adults and children on the autism spectrum in South Australia, so as a police officer, you can expect to interact with autistic people on a regular basis,” says SAPOL’s Director of Human Resources Service, Kim-Sherie Summers.
“The purpose of this training is to increase the capability of officers to recognise signs of autism and to effectively interact with autistic people."
“SAPOL’s vision is for safer communities, where each member of the public regardless of ability or disability feels safe and respected. This vision is supported by SAPOL’s Disability Access and Inclusion Plan 2020-2024.”
Lead researcher, Vicki Gibbs says the module is the result of research findings that showed that a large proportion of autistic people living in Australia reported challenging interactions with police, which was often attributed to misunderstanding of the autistic person’s behaviour or communication. Importantly, researchers developed the module in partnership with autistic people, using their life experience and wisdom to shape and guide the training.
As part of the training module, police officers virtually interact with a number of different scenarios that could involve interacting with an autistic person and encounter “typical” behaviours of an autistic person. These scenarios could range from routine traffic stops to identifying and managing a “melt down”.
As part of the training, officers are required to provide their response to each scenario.
This is one of several actions SAPOL is putting in place to provide accessible and inclusive information, services and facilities for people with disability.
For more information on SAPOL’s commitment to disability and inclusion, visit https://www.police.sa.gov.au/about-us/disability-plan-2020.