Autism and Written Communication

1st Apr 2021

Often we are asked if we can ‘translate’ written documents into neurodiverse friendly language– almost as if it were a foreign language!  Yet for many neurodivergent individuals reading and being able to act upon the written word can at times feel like a completely new language.

Nigel Archer our specialist
Criminal Justice advisor

Nigel Archer (Archie as he prefers to be known), our Criminal Justice Consultant, recalls a situation involving a young autistic boy.  The boy had a special interest in knives and he would often get into trouble at school for having the knives.

He was getting bullied at school for being different – because of this he started to carry the knives more often. On one occasion when the young boy was being bullied her pulled out his knife in public in an aim to stop the bullying.

On this occasion the police were called, and he was taken into custody.  The police rather than giving him a caution or even worse a prison sentence issued a gentler Acceptable Behaviour Contract (ABC).  This approach is often seen as a deterrent and is proven to reduce smaller crimes from being repeated.

The contract the young boy signed read:

I will not use, carry or possess any knife, blade or sharply pointed object/instrument whilst in a public place, save that I may have a folding pocket knife (with a cutting edge less than 7cm long) for the purposes of fishing.

Having a special interest for many autistic individuals is a passion, it can almost be a way of being.  To be without the special interest is incomprehensible – as it would be to many of us drivers to be without a car – or for many of us more recently to be without family.

The behaviour continued and once again the young boy ended up in custody.  At this point Archie was called in for his expertise guidance.  Archie helped the officers re write the ABC  as follows:

From a generic statement:

I will not use, carry or possess any knife, blade or sharply pointed object/instrument whilst in a public place, save that I may have a folding pocket knife (with a cutting edge less than 7cm long) for the purposes of fishing.

To a specific statement for the young boy

  • I will not take knives outside my house.
  • I will not hold anyone else’s knife.
  • I can have a small penknife with me if I am fishing (only put in if he actually does fish).
  • I can hold knives I have been given in restaurants or cafes.

And then it stopped.  The young boy understood what was required.  Once he could read what was specifically required and the statement more tailored to him, he could take the required action.

The power of language is something we know about at Creased Puddle. We work with many organisations to help them to clean up their written documentation.

Nigel Archer our specialist Criminal Justice advisor and has over 25 years experience in the police force, much of this working with neurodiversity.

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