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2 April 2021
To mark World Autism Awareness Day, PFEW produced two fascinating videos featuring autistic police officers who talk frankly about their own unique journeys.
The first was with ‘Prisoner Whisperer’ Andy Buchan, a retired sergeant from Staffordshire Police and an author who has produced one of the most influential books on the subject. The second video features Avon & Somerset Police Inspector Adam O’Loughlin.
Andy Buchan is the author of ‘Autism and the Police: Practical Advice for Officers and Other First Responders.’ This unique and approachable handbook was inspired by his work with autistic members of the public when he was a custody sergeant and featured real-life scenarios where Andy had used his expertise to assist individuals who came into his custody suite.
Andy himself was diagnosed as autistic at 43, and his experiences of getting the diagnosis - and seeing his son go through the same process – gave him a unique insight into autism. This allowed him to see behaviours in individuals who came into the suite which he recognised later as signs of autism, or other neurodiversity.
He also found that addressing these behaviours with empathy, and a few basic alterations to standard procedures, paid huge dividends, earning him the nickname of the ‘Prisoner Whisperer’.
Speaking in the video, Andy said: “I ended up feeling like an interpreter between people who were neurodivergent and neurotypical - I kept getting colleagues asking me why I did what I did, and how I did that.” The questions inspired Andy to develop an autism policy for Staffordshire Police, as well as help design a new custody suite geared towards the needs of neurodiverse people.
Inspector Adam O’Loughlin has also used his diagnosis to help people. As one of England’s most highly ranked autistic police officers, he’s something of an unofficial spokesperson for his neurodiverse colleagues. Diagnosed as autistic in 2016, he uses his social media platform to show there are many options which can result in successful careers for neurodiverse people – and that policing has come a long way by accommodating autism over recent years.
Adam found policing, with its structure, rules for talking to the public, and uniform, a perfect fit for his needs, and is sure this is what attracts other autistic people to the job.
He said: “Basically, my job is to come to work and follow the rules, and make sure that everyone else follows the rules.” He doesn’t see being autistic as any kind of hindrance to his career and never considered hiding the facts of who he was.
Talking to PFEW, Adam said: “The best way for the autistic community to feel supported by the police is to understand that not only do we understand them, we also have a significant proportion of autistic people working for us.”