A first-of-its-kind initiative launches in Glasgow today, to help address the unique challenges faced by people with autism who are victims of crime and accidents.
Spearheaded by Strathclyde Police, the Autism Information Sharing Partnership is a pilot scheme for people with the condition, living in the North West of Glasgow.
Using an innovative database system, police called to a home address in the area will be made aware in advance when the occupant has autism. Police can also access important details such as any individual characteristics of the condition, and a personal contact who can lead police through what can be a highly pressurised situation. An estimated 50,000 Scots have autism, with 6,000 thought to live in the city of Glasgow.
A range of autism organisations, including The National Autistic Society (NAS) Scotland, Strathclyde Autistic Society and Scottish Autism are encouraging all young people and adults with autism in North West Glasgow to register with the pilot scheme. The Autism Resource Centre (ARC), based in Glasgow will administer the project.
Dr Robert Moffat, national director of the National Autistic Society (NAS) Scotland, said: "Autism is known as the 'invisible disability', because those with the condition can appear to be outwardly functioning well, while often experiencing severe challenges in communication and social situations.
"Being a victim of a crime or accident can be a stressful experience for anyone. But for someone with autism it can be particularly disorientating and frightening. People with the condition can have difficulty making eye contact, or find any kind of physical contact unbearable. They often have difficulty understanding facial expressions, can be very literal in their understanding of questions and easily misinterpret others’ intentions. In an environment of serious crime or medical emergency these types of misunderstandings can have serious consequences."
Strathclyde Police was the first force in Scotland to launch an Autism Alert card scheme in 2007. The Autism Information Sharing Partnership is being heralded by autism support organisations as a potential significant advance in further protecting people with the condition.
Kieran Pentland (42) works as an Employment Consultant for The National Autistic Society, and has Asperger syndrome, also known as high functioning autism. He is encouraging people with the condition in North West Glasgow to register for the Autism Information Sharing Partnership.
Kieran comments: "I love motorcycling and the sense of freedom it gives me. I've been riding motorcycles for more than 22 years, and for me it's more a way of life than a hobby. Over the years, I've occasionally come into contact with the police. The unexpected situation, the bright blue flashing lights, crackling radio noises, high visibility vests and the questioning can be confusing and overwhelming.
"At times like these people with autism can struggle to communicate in a 'conventional' manner, and become highly stressed and agitated. This can be can be misinterpreted by officers, exacerbating the situation. But it doesn’t have to be like this.
"It would be great if officers could minimise distractions such as radio noise and flashing lights. People with autism can be are very sensitive to voice tone, so officers could sometimes adopt a friendlier tone of voice and even communicate in a less formal way. This could really help resolve matters more quickly, more easily and with less stress."
Dave Ollig (34) from Glasgow's west end who has high functioning autism, also known as Asperger syndrome, has registered on the Autism Awareness Partnership database. He comments:
"Most of the time I feel like I don't see the world in the same way others see it. But because I have high functioning autism, on the outside I appear articulate and look like I'm functioning well. It could be a real problem if I'm a victim of a crime or accident, because police will expect me to process information in the same way they do, and I can’t always do this.
"Like many people with autism my facial expressions and actions don’t always give a true reflection of what I'm thinking and feeling. I'm not great at making eye contact, especially if I feel under pressure. If I meet someone for the first time and they ask a lot of questions, I can start to feel overloaded and anxious. This could easily be misinterpreted as me looking shifty, when I'm actually just struggling to make sense of the world around me and understand what’s being said. I believe registering with the Autism Information Sharing Partnership could really help defuse those kinds of misunderstandings."
Chief Inspector Simon Wright, Strathclyde Police said: "The Autism Alert card has proved very successful in supporting people with autism. But not everyone remembers to produce a card in challenging circumstances. The Autism Awareness Partnership pilot is designed to provide additional support for people with autism and their families, at what can be challenging times.
"Registering on the database will allow officers called to an address to quickly identify someone with the condition, improve understanding of their needs and offer them the best possible support. Keeping people safe, especially those with the greatest needs and at the most risk, is at the heart of Strathclyde Police."
Paul Lennon, autism services co-ordinator, The Autism Resource Centre (ARC) comments: "The Autism Resource Centre (ARC) is based in Glasgow and we are delighted to work in partnership with Strathclyde Police and build on the success of its Autism Alert card with this innovative new pilot project. We welcome and endorse the Autism Information Sharing Partnership as an important step forward in recognising some of the difficulties and uniqueness experienced by young people and adults who have autism in Glasgow. We are delighted to be facilitating this development."
Landmark pilot project to 'better protect' Glaswegians with autism
Dr Robert Moffat, national director of the National Autistic Society (NAS) Scotland said: "The new Autism Information Sharing Partnership is a crucial step in ensuring Strathclyde Police is autism aware, and helps people with autism in North West Glasgow to access the same rights most of us take for granted. We are encouraging constabularies across Scotland to follow the innovative lead of Strathclyde Police."
David Crawford, Executive Director for Glasgow City Council's Social Work Services said: "We are delighted to be working with Strathclyde Police to build on the success of its Autism Alert card with this innovative new pilot project.
"The Autism Information Sharing Partnership is an important step forward in recognising some of the difficulties and uniqueness experienced by young people and adults who have autism in Glasgow.
"For someone with autism, the new information sharing partnership will allow quick identification of their condition, improve understanding of their needs and offer the best possible support. The Autism Resource Centre in Glasgow has played a pivotal role in enhancing services for people with autism in Glasgow. This new partnership further highlights our on-going commitment to ensuring staff gains a greater understanding of autism and further improving the services we provide."
Alex MacKenzie, Director, North West Sector, Glasgow City Community Health Partnerships said:
"NHS Glasgow welcomes the development of the Autism Information Sharing Partnership and is proud to have worked in partnership on this initiative. This project will serve as a prompt for staff treating patients with autism to consider and adapt their approach in order to make the experience much more positive. This is one step further for health staff in learning the language of autism."
Strathclyde Police first approached people with autism and their families in North West Glasgow in April 2012, to gauge interest in the pilot scheme. Following a significant positive, the project officially launches today and will continue for 12 months. From May 2013, an evaluation of the pilot will take place to establish any benefits to Strathclyde Police officers and staff, partner agencies and family members of children or vulnerable persons with an Autism Spectrum Condition.
The Autism resource Centre (ARC) will be administering the Information Sharing Partnership, in conjunction with Strathclyde Police.
To register with the Information Sharing Partnership contact the Autism Resource Centre:
Tel: 0141 276 7182