Autism charity tackles criminal justice issues

Autism and Asperger’s syndrome charity the National Autistic Society (NAS) is to target law enforcers with an awareness campaign later this month.

The move comes after the NAS found lawyers, court officials and police had 'low understanding' of how to recognise autistic behaviour and deal with sufferers of the condition.

NAS head of PR and media Jennie Spears said although criminal justice problems made up a relatively small number of calls to the charity's emergency hotline, they were often serious.

'We had a recent case of an autistic woman who was stopped by police for using her mobile phone while driving,' said Spears. 'Her condition meant she found it extremely difficult to make eye contact, which made the police officers suspicious. The situation escalated until she was arrested and locked in a cell.'

NAS has produced an information pack on how to recognise symptoms of autism and deal with autistic people without causing them anxiety.

Packs will be sent to court officials and senior police officers before the start of the campaign on 19 October.

Spears said media relations would target trade press, including Counsel, Police Review and Legal Executive, while national coverage will also be sought.

The professional awareness campaign is the first carried out by the NAS since it signed a three-year sponsorship deal with Vodafone in March.

The mobile phone company will not have branding on the information packs, but may have a more visible role when the charity targets dentists and opticians next year.

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