Interview study seeks people with autism

People with autism and Asperger’s syndrome are being sought to take part in a new study examining police interview methods in relation to the condition.

Joanne Richards from the University of Portsmouth is carrying out the research, which is looking at improving how adults with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) are questioned as police witnesses.

She is researching how people with ASD perceive events, recall them and respond to traditional police questioning. She would like to hear from adults with ASD who are interested in taking part in ‘mock’ police interviews as witnesses to a crime. The study, which is supported by the National Policing Improvements Agency, is designed to improve police interview techniques and to understand how the criminal justice system can work better for adults with ASD.

Participants will watch a DVD recording of a criminal event and will be interviewed by University researchers about what they saw. In between they will be given some ‘distraction devices’ to simulate what happens in real life when there is a gap between seeing a crime and being asked to recall and recount what took place. Interviews will take place at the University’s Centre for Forensic Interviewing and will take about one hour.

Joanne, from the University’s Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, says: “ASD is associated with problems with communication and interaction skills and little is known about how people with ASD respond in a forensic setting. Being a witness in a police interview places demands upon memory, cognitive ability and communication skills that people with ASD may find problematic. This could have implications for a police investigation which is reliant on a good eye-witness account.

“People with ASD may have different perceptual skills that can manifest as both strengths and weaknesses. The aim of the study is to create interview conditions which will maximise their strengths and provide resources to accommodate their communication difficulties.”

The research will be completed by the summer 2012 and researchers hope that the results can be used to inform police practice. The study is supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

To take part in the study or to make an enquiry, please email Joanne Richards.

The British Psychological Society has developed a series of e-learning modules to raise awareness of adult autism. Delivered through the BPS Learning Centre, the modules appeal to a range of learners, including members of the public. The modules concentrate on raising awareness, delivering knowledge and understanding from introductory to specialist levels.

The three e-learning modules are:

• Building awareness of adult autism
• Supporting adults with autism (coming soon)
• Working with adults with autism (suitable for Practitioner Psychologists and other professionals)

For more information on autism, see the Society’s question and answer page.