Autism Awareness Training: How much is enough?

Posted by: Felicity — about 7 years ago (1 comment)

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Does autism training make a difference?

Here is one person's view. What are yours?


Posted by: manarm — about 7 years ago

From Nigel Archer, Criminal Justice Sector Development Coordinator at Autism West Midlands

Whilst I agree with Sara that in the long term the goal should be to just get people to understand that by treating each person as an individual and making reasonable adjustments in the way we interact or do things in order to meet differing needs is the best way to do things, this is not always realistic. Unfortunately society and it's rules and laws are designed by the 'Neuro-Typical' majority for the majority. This means that some organisations and in particular my area of specialty the Criminal Justice Sector are bound by laws, policies and procedures; and practices are developed with the majority and the most common situations in mind. As such the staff in these organisations need some awareness of how ASD affects individuals and can bring them into contact with them.

Whilst there has to be an element of generalisation in any training I make a point of stressing that each individual with an ASD will be different and the way the condition impacts on them and their behaviours will vary according to the individual and the circumstances. That is why I advocate 3 tiers of training - the first at a very basic level for public contact in the broadest terms just to make people stop and think and consider the condition in their dealings with an individual with ASD, say for reception desk staff. The second aimed at staff such as police, the courts, CPS etc who will encounter individuals in difficult circumstances or times of crisis, this being far more contextualised to the types of situations and the factors that may have impacted on the individual which has resulted in police involvement for instance. The third tier should be far more in depth and aimed at methods and interventions which are proven to be effective in helping the individual and supporting or addressing problematic behaviours such as SEN teachers, social workers, probation or youth offending staff, prison officers etc. Without this, staff in these highly regulated and procedure driven organisations will unwittingly attempt to use tried and tested methods with potentially damaging or unforeseen consequences both for them and the individual.

In short, until there is a major shift in society as a whole there remains a need for some training, but it needs to be appropriate for the roles in which it will be used and not just a general awareness. I'm sure Sara might have a very different experience with other smaller autism charities such as the one I work for, where great emphasis is placed on being 'autism friendly' in everything we do.

In a survey this May of West Mercia Police whom I trained some years ago, 86.9% of staff said the training had helped them better understand the ASD individual they were dealing with and made their job easier. It also resulted in 67.6% of those individuals with an ASD who were suspected offenders not being criminalised and proceeded against because the impact of their condition on their behaviours was a factor. In almost 15% of those cases they were also referred to another service for help and support which had previously been lacking and because the referral had come from police and was to prevent potential re-offending they actually got help they needed. Prior to the training this would not have been such a positive picture as I know from the regular calls I receive from people regarding interactions with other police forces who have not been trained.

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