The Metropolitan Police must be trained to recognise autism


To someone who has never knowingly encountered autism it can be both puzzling and perplexing. Some reactions or behaviours may appear paradoxical or even perverse to the lay observer. The desire to avoid contact, an apparent lack of appropriate fears while other events or objects may seem to evoke enormous - yet seemingly unfounded - anxiety may be quite striking. A physical appearance of so-called normality may be juxtaposed with a lack of communication, unexpected behaviour, an intense interest in activities that may not be expected in someone of that age or even of any age.

Should we be equally perplexed by the apparently perverse behaviour of the Metropolitan Police who are really quite put out by High Court Judge Sir Robert Nelson's finding that manhandling and cuffing ZH, a young person with autism, was unlawful? Could they not just have been puzzled and perplexed by ZH's behaviour as anyone else walking in off the street might be? After all, the police are only human and, when all's said and done, look at what they have to do. Would you do it?

Law and order are the paving stones upon which justice can walk free. Try working in a country where the police are essentially untrained heavies in pantomime uniforms carrying large guns. I have. It's not a recipe for feeling safe at night. In this country we can, on the whole, pride ourselves on having an honest, fair-minded police service that tries to avoid unnecessary heavy-handedness.

I was once told that possessing authority is only any use if you don't have to express it. In effect, if it's understood by others that you are in a position of authority and you have their respect expressing your authority is unnecessary. While this is clearly true for the police everyone would accept that they have to retain the option of physical intervention. But when? Responding to someone behaving irrationally who has no comprehension of who you are or what you represent, so cannot conceive of your authority or their irrationality because of a disability, requires a bit more than authority. It requires understanding. Actually, it requires a degree of professionalism and the capacity to assess just what you are trying to manage.

So Metropolitan Police please make your peace with ZH's family, and get your officers trained in recognising autism. We really don't want to think of you in pantomime uniforms.

Andy Lusk is director of autism services at Ambitious about Autism. Follow Ambitious about Autism on Twitter https://twitter.com/#/ambitiousautism

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