The challenges of autism in the police force

Joining the police with Asperger’s is not as easy as it looks on TV crime dramas, a policeman with autism said.

John Nelson, chairman of the National Police Autism Association (NPAA), has commented on the challenges of “thinking differently” in the police force.

“Asperger’s isn’t an automatic bar to joining, but everyone who wants to be a police officer has got to pass the Assessment Centre and that might be particularly challenging for someone with Asperger’s,” he says.

“So it’s not an automatic fail, but it may make it more difficult. It affects everyone in a different way. Some people wouldn’t have a problem meeting the requirements, but some people might not be suited to a career in the police service.”

The NPAA, launched in October 2015, is there to support those police officers who do make it.

The main challenge, says Mr Nelson, is not the work itself, but working alongside colleagues and managers who might not be used to dealing with people on the spectrum.

“No one has said ‘I’ve found the job really tough’, dealing with the public, the day to day police work. But they find how they get treated by other police officers, and especially managers, quite difficult at times.

“I think that’s a reflection on the attitude of the police service towards diversity, which is something we talk a lot about on our Twitter feed. The thing about the police service is they tend to focus on black and minority ethnic diversity against other forms.”

In an ideal world, says Mr Nelson, there wouldn’t be any need for the NPAA.

“Ultimately what we’d like to see is that people are just accepted for who they are without having to have a label attached to them, and that they’re recognised for their strength. That people can be tolerant and make allowances and then see the strength in people rather than expecting everyone to be the same,” he said.