Photo of Ann Clwyd, MP, speaking in the House of Commons

 

Ann Clwyd, MP for Cynon Valley, has today introduced an important new bill in Parliament to make autism understanding training mandatory for all police officers in England and Wales.

At the National Autistic Society, we know that a lack of understanding can lead to autistic people being treated poorly and even injustly, so we fully support this bill and have been working with Ann Clwyd to make sure it was heard in Parliament.

You can watch the discussion on the Parliament.tv website.

The bill, called the Police Officer Training (Autism Awareness) Bill, was introduced as a Ten Minute Rule Bill. This is a kind of bill that is brought forward by an individual MP, rather than the Government. They get 10 minutes to make their case in the House of Commons. MPs then vote on whether it should go further. However, due to the way that Parliament works, Ten Minute Rule Bills don’t often make it all the way into becoming law. These bills are a great way to raise important issues though, which is exactly what happened today.

Autistic people may come into contact with the criminal justice system in a number of different ways – either as victim, witness or suspect. Whichever it is, it is vital that autistic people are understood so that their rights are protected – particularly because this might be a time of great stress or anxiety, and autistic people may find it difficult to communicate their needs. This is something that Paula McGowan has also raised in a recent petition.

Ann Clwyd told MPs today that because of this, it’s essential that police have training to make sure they can support autistic people and work with them in a way that stops a situation escalating and someone getting in more trouble. She also pointed out recent research, which has found that just 37% police officers reported having had autism training, while 92% of those who hadn’t had training said they would find it useful.

The Government must make sure that all police officers understand autism. If today’s bill doesn’t becomes law, the Government should still pledge to train police officers as part of the autism strategy, when it is revised later this year. We are grateful to Ann Clwyd for raising the profile of this issue and we will keep working with her to raise it further.

Tim Nicholls, Head of Policy at the National Autistic Society said:

Autistic people are subject to the law, just like anyone else. But autistic people are at greater risk of being unfairly criminalised due to a lack of understanding of autism - among the police, courts and the wider public.

"For example, autistic people find communicating difficult and can become extremely anxious in situations they don't understand - particularly if they're surrounded by noise and confusion. In some cases, this can lead to people not responding when they are given instructions or losing control of their behaviour. This can be misinterpreted by emergency services and things can escalate quickly.

"Police are at the front line of our communities. It’s vital that they can recognise people who could be autistic and know the simple ways they can adapt their communication or actions, so they can make sure that autistic people are treated fairly and don’t face injustice.

“We know that police officers want to do their best and this training could help them do that, creating a society where all autistic people benefit from the protection and support of the police.”