Pioneering support for autistic offenders

Offenders in Hampshire are benefiting from a pioneering service to support people on probation with Asperger’s and autism.

The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Community Rehabilitation Company first commissioned specialist Sandy Teal, who runs her own consultancy business, to work with the CRC five-years-ago.

Sandy has more than 40 years of experience working in special education and runs an independent service supporting individuals with Asperger Syndrome and high functioning autism and associated diagnoses, alongside offering support and training to professionals and families.

Sandy and her team have worked supporting HIOW CRC’s probation case managers with nearly 60 service users during the last 2018. The support they provide ranges from helping case managers develop their autism understanding and practices through to supporting service users to make positive changes to their lives and referring them onto other specialists if needed.

Service users who have a diagnosis of autism or Asperger’s are automatically eligible and can be referred, but staff can also refer service users who they suspect may have the condition.

Sandy said: “People with Autism Spectrum Disorders / Aspergers are often misunderstood within the criminal justice system, and so I applaud HIOW CRC for the innovative way in which they have gone about trying to improve how they deliver services to this diverse group of people.

“Both conditions impact upon the individual’s ability to socially communicate, and their social interaction can also include restricted and repetitive behaviour. We therefore work alongside case managers so they can see how we communicate with service users and learn about best practice.

“The barriers and challenges people with Autism Spectrum Disorders / Asperger’s face can be huge; they are frequently misunderstood, which can lead to them getting in trouble with the law, among myriad other issues. It is therefore important to provide bespoke support that is tailored toward them not re-offending and their individual needs.”

Sandy and her team also work with clients referred by the National Probation Service. They use screening tools that help to identify people with the conditions and can refer service users who are not already receiving support to GPs, Social Care, the NHS and voluntary services.

Sandy said: “We are the only service with this approach in the UK that I know of which is providing autism-specific work in the community to people supervised by a CRC. I am immensely proud of the work we are doing alongside HIOW CRC to provide bespoke support to our service users.”

Sandy added: “The message I want to get out to Magistrates and sentencers is that they may see an individual in the court who looks entirely like you and I, and therefore assume that they are understanding due to an ability to mask their feelings. People with autism can suffer from anxiety to a debilitating extent, and so may make inappropriate responses under stress – such as laughing or smirking – both of which would obviously be frowned upon by a sentencer.

“The court process demands that people quickly process information being communicated to them, usually only verbally. This is particularly difficult for people on the autistic spectrum. I also know of cases where the fact an individual ‘has not shown remorse’ has been used against them, but again this can be entirely symptomatic of the condition.

“This makes it absolutely crucial for us all to commit to better understanding Autism Spectrum Disorders/Asperger’s so that the right support can be given to those who have the conditions.”