Amanda Gibbs (creator of the Autism Alert Card and Passport scheme) receiving a certificate in the spectrum template

We interviewed Amanda Gibbs, an autistic woman and creator of the Autism Alert Cards and Passports – a scheme designed to educate police officers on autism and how they can better support autistic people in the Criminal Justice System.

Amanda talked to us about how the cards and passports work, what prompted her to create the scheme in the first place, and why it is so important that police officers make reasonable adjustments for autistic people.

What is being autistic like for you?

Being autistic is all I've ever known, along with co-existing conditions. I was only formally diagnosed 14 years ago, but it came as no surprise. A number of family members are autistic.

Daily life still feels like I live among aliens. Other people don't speak the same language as me. I like my routines and being alone to follow my interests. Unexpected interruptions and sudden changes are very difficult to cope with and cause me lots of anxiety. Certain noises are painful to my ears and some smells make me nauseous.

Daily life still feels like I live among aliens. Other people don't speak the same language as me.

Being around people becomes overwhelming very quickly. I need time to process information so I am generally 'out of synch' with other people. Being with people, social situations, not knowing what to expect and sensory sensitivities are exhausting. Public transport is a nightmare so I avoid using it as much as possible.

Most people are referred to as neurotypical but there's nothing typical about them – they're the ones who are different - they speak their own language, yet they misinterpret many things about me and consider me weird.

What are Autism Alert Cards and Passports?

The newly launched Autism Alert Card and Passport scheme is officially recognised by the police to aid more positive interaction and experiences for autistic people who have contact with the police.

The scheme has been launched by three police forces: The Metropolitan Police; British Transport Police and the City of London Police. It is also endorsed by the National Police Autism Association.

The Alert Card 'alerts' officers that you are autistic, letting them know they should be patient and should avoid physical contact if possible. You can write the name and phone number of an appropriate adult for them to call – an appropriate adult can aid communication and give you support. The Card also directs officers to ask for your Autism Passport for more information about you.

You can write as much or as little information in the passport as you choose. The onus is on officers to make reasonable adjustments according to each person's needs. The more they know about you, the easier it is for them to make reasonable adjustments.

The passport states you are entitled to an appropriate adult at all times. You can write about any medical conditions you may have and any medications you take so you don't miss a dose. This is especially important if, for example, if you have epilepsy.

The passport also has a visual 'feelings thermometer' so you can show officers how you are feeling if you can't verbalise them. To improve understanding of autism, there is information for officers on how autism can manifest and what they can do to help you.

Why did you decide to create the Autism Passport?

My contact with the police, as a victim of crime, was overwhelmingly horrendous, highly stressful, extremely anxiety provoking and terribly confusing.

They knew about my autism but didn't understand how it manifests, how it impacts me or what I needed in terms of reasonable adjustments, so no adjustments were made.

The police station was busy and noisy. The lights were too bright and I could hear them humming. I met with different unknown officers without prior notice and was never in the same room twice. There was no consistency. Nothing and nobody was familiar.

Questions were asked too quickly in succession for me to process. Metaphors and expressions were used that made no sense to me. Without an appropriate adult, there was nobody to support me, nobody to 'translate' what was said, nobody to ensure I got a break when needed, and nobody to advocate on my behalf for the reasonable adjustments I needed.

My experience was so distressing for me I was left with PTSD. Nobody, with or without a disability, should be left with PTSD from contact with the police.

Complaining would not change my experience. Instead, I decided to try to improve future contact with the police for as many autistic people as possible. From that moment, the idea of a police specific Autism passport was born.

I decided to try to improve future contact with the police for as many autistic people as possible.

Why and how do you think that some autistic people can find communicating with the police/other professionals and organisations difficult?

I tend to find myself thinking, 'why do other people find communicating with me so difficult?’.

I tell the truth. I say what I mean and mean what I say. I don't like or understand the purpose of 'small talk'. I prefer to get to the point. It's far less confusing.

I tell the truth. I say what I mean and mean what I say. I don't like or understand the purpose of 'small talk'.

Other people have the ability to modify their use of language, their attitude, and how they interact with me. These are things autistic people can find very challenging. In my opinion, it's down to 'neurotypical' people to adjust how they communicate with me because they are able to modify how they interact.

How should an autistic person use an Autism Alert Card and Passport?

The Alert Card and passport can be used in a number of ways. Both can be carried with you easily. The idea is for autistic people to feel more confident about reporting crimes against them, to have more positive experiences when in contact with the police and to work out the best outcomes for all involved.

If you get lost, overwhelmed or need any assistance when you are out, you can show the Alert Card to an officer who will then be able to help you.

If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident, police can notify other professionals, such as ambulance crews – they will tell them that you are autistic and if needed, will inform your appropriate adult.

How did you approach the police to initiate the project?

Basically, I made a nuisance of myself. I mentioned and discussed the scheme with all officers I know, and some I didn't know. I wrote to many people, including the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. I initially started designing the passport in 2015 and consulted widely with autistic people, carers, family members, organisations, charities, services and police officers, and made amendments based on feedback.

I wanted to present the scheme to police forces so that they could secure funding for printing and ensure the scheme was officially adopted by the police.

I met some amazing officers, especially Detective Inspector Dion Brown, who thought the scheme was an excellent idea. All officers involved put in many hours and worked really hard, in addition to their full time jobs, to make sure the scheme came to fruition. It was DI Brown who initially designed the Alert Cards with me.

What did you do during the development process?

A tri-force working group was formed with British Transport Police and City of London Police. We met regularly.

Everyone involved really liked the scheme and happily participated in finalising layout, size, colours and wording of both the Alert Card and Passport. They have to work for officers as well as autistic people.

People originally consulted were once again asked for feedback on additional amendments before the documents were finalised for printing.

What are you hopes for the cards in the future?

My hopes are that the scheme is recognised nationally. People travel so should be able to use their passport wherever they are. It would be great if the scheme could be used throughout the Criminal Justice System. This is something I am currently exploring. The priority is for autistic people to have more positive interactions with the police.

The priority is for autistic people to have more positive interactions with the police.

How can an autistic person get an Alert Card and Passport?

Alert Cards and Passports can be ordered direct from a dedicated email address: autism@met.police.uk

They can be requested via Police Hate Crime units from each borough.

They are being distributed widely to many autism groups, organisations, services, colleges and universities.

Request your Alert Card and Passport