More than two-thirds of autistic people are left 'troubled' by encounters with the police service and the legal system, according to new research.
The study, based on interviews with autistic adults conducted by academics at the University of Bath and at City University, London, found that 69% were unhappy with how they had been treated by police officers.
In addition, three-quarters of parents of autistic children were left upset by their experiences with the law often citing fears of discrimination. Others reported a lack of clarity over what was happening and expressed frustration that things had not been properly explained to them.
The study further revealed that of almost 400 officers questioned for the research, only 37% had been trained in how to treat autistic people.
Dr Laura Crane, co-author of the study, said: "Contact with police can be a stressful event. As a result, police officers, especially those in frontline roles, need to be aware of possible signs of autism.
"Autistic people are a vulnerable group within the criminal justice system. High-quality training and support for police who may encounter autistic people within their role will ensure that the experience for all involved improves to the necessary level."
There are more than 700,000 people with an autism spectrum disorder in the UK and there is evidence that more people with the condition are coming into contact with police and other public servants. However, there are no official figures for autistic involvement in the criminal justice system.
A number of autistic people who took part in the study said they had been interviewed in an inappropriate physical environment and had received a lack of appropriate support. This led to them becoming stressed, triggering breakdowns in communication with police officers.
Dr Katie Maras of the University of Bath’s department of psychology, a co-author of the study, said it was clear that more forces needed to train officers on the issues confronting autistic people.
“These findings highlight how police perceptions of their professional experiences with autistic witnesses, suspects and victims differ from those of the autism community,” she said. “It is essential police feel better equipped with role-specific training about autism, and that they have the institutional support that allows them to flexibly adapt their procedures in order to better support people with autism.”