In police promotion and police leadership more generally, inclusion for those with neurodiverse conditions is an important topic with key aspects discussed in this blog. The subject of neurodiversity in UK policing has gained traction over the last year, with awareness being raised and those with neurological differences being increasingly recognised and respected.
“Sometimes it’s the people no one can imagine anything of that do the things no one can imagine.” – Alan Turing
This two-part blog series discusses challenges and potential solutions for CPD-oriented individuals. It is particularly useful for those seeking to understand and recognise related conditions, while being more inclusive to neurodiverse individuals they may lead. In the context of police promotion, it outlines how representation at the levels of leadership (such as Sergeant, Inspector, and Chief Inspector) are imperative for the future of policing. It also offers support to those aspiring to formal leadership positions within the Federated ranks, with suggested areas of CPD to aid promotion success for all individuals, whether having an Autism Spectrum Condition, Specific Learning Disability, or otherwise.
What is Neurodiversity?
“The range of differences in individual brain function and behavioural traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population (used especially in the context of autistic spectrum disorders).” – Oxford English Dictionary definition of neurodiversity
What is neurodiversity and how does it differ from autism, dyslexia and other terminology?
This is a common question. Put simply, ‘neurodiversity’ is contemporary lexicon for describing the broad spectrum of conditions such as autism, Asperger Syndrome, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and ADHD.
More scientifically and medically speaking, you may hear the terms ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’, or more recently ‘Autism Spectrum Condition’ (ASC), to describe an autism-related condition. Autism-related conditions tend to be associated with impaired communication, spatial awareness and social interaction. Conditions which more specifically interfere with someone’s ability to listen, think, spell, speak, write or do maths calculations are often referred to as ‘Specific Learning Difficulties’, or ‘SpLDs’. Although technically speaking conditions such as dyslexia and other SpLDs are not necessarily on the autism spectrum, there can be commonalities and all neurodiverse conditions affect the way the brain processes information.
Individuals with ASCs and/or SpLDs often have greater abilities and advantages in other functions, as we shall cover later in this information piece. This is important to know in combating any residual stigma that exists in policing, helping police leaders recognise how to get the best from people, while identifying ways policing can meet the VUCA challenges of the future by amplifying these talents. The Dyslexic Advantage for example provides plenty of evidence where neurodiversity can actually provide great advantages for those with such conditions.
The term ‘neurodiversity’ is clearly used as an overarching phrase to describe all these ways of thinking differently. It can be an inclusive term for those who overtly think differently, because it views neurological conditions less as ‘disorders’ and more towards seeing them as part of the cognitive diversity of Mankind. Here’s more information about the different forms of autism and other ASCs in policing. For more about SpLDs, you may find the British Dyslexia Association a useful resource. The National Police Autism Association (NPAA) supports police officers with and raises awareness of all such conditions.
How Prevalent Are ASCs in the UK?
“When something is important enough, you do it, even if the odds are not in your favour.” – Elon Musk
The incidence of autism in the general population is approximately 1%, with an estimated 700,000 adults and children on the autistic spectrum in the UK. Research suggests the incidence between men and women is similar, though diagnosis for females is reported to be much lower, with around three males receiving an ASC diagnosis to one female. This relatively much lower diagnosis or reporting among females is believed to arise from a better ability to mask autistic behaviours among women and girls, while the diagnostics are also more tailored towards men.
If you are wondering, ‘Do I have traits of autism?’ or ‘Would I be on the autism spectrum?’, there are screening tests to aid your self-awareness. For example, this free Autism Spectrum Quotient test is recommended by the National Autistic Society. It will help identify whether a further and more formal diagnosis would be beneficial.
For dyslexia, it is estimated by the British Dyslexia Association that 10% of the UK population are dyslexic, with 4% being severely affected. In considering the Peelian Principle that ‘the police are the public and the public are the police’, that amounts to as much as 1 in 10 police officers who may require support.
Many cops don’t even know about the conditions they may have, only receiving diagnosis well into their police career, for example after coming forward for support or via a work-based assessment. This diagnosis can be liberating, whereas previously they may have thought or believed they were limited in certain abilities compared to others. Some say formal diagnosis has helped them ‘make sense of their life’.
As a police leader, manager and supervisor, there may be individuals on your team who are undiagnosed yet requiring support. This blog is to raise awareness, given that trust in your leadership and the environment you create for your team/s is key to encouraging those who may need support to seek it. What are you doing to enable that trust? Of course, there are also supervisors who having had meaningful supportive conversations, have supported individuals by arranging work-based assessments and implementing bespoke ‘reasonable adjustments’ to allow them to do their work effectively. This isn’t just the right thing to do; it also makes for good promotion evidence.
Support for Neurodiversity in Policing
“Most experts and great leaders agree that leaders are made, not born, and that they are made through their own drive for learning and self-improvement.” – Carol Dweck
As you may expect, approaches between the 50+ different UK forces varies, with some officers having never asked for or received support. However, support for both individuals and managers is available.
The NPAA is a dedicated support association for officers and staff with all types of neurodiverse conditions. It also provides resources to assist ‘neurotypical’ folk in better understanding such conditions, being aware of the challenges and knowing how to support others. There are bountiful resources and links to support those with ASCs, diagnosed or otherwise, on the NPAA resources page. This includes links to the UK National Autistic Society, helplines for support, learning resources, diagnostic information, and related legislation.
The Equality Act 2010 and related Public Sector Equality Duty make relevant provisions for conducting work-based assessments and other supportive action. The purpose is ultimately to help all individuals do their job well. These can also extend to promotion processes. For example, if you understand information better when it is written down than spoken (visual preference), did you know that you can ask for questions to be typed out and provided at your interview, rather than just spoken aloud by the interviewing board? Why not make use of such a ‘Reasonable Adjustment’ to help you excel?
Of course, disclosing any condition is a personal choice, but doing so means that your manager has an opportunity to put in place reasonable adjustments to help you do your job and excel, and also to generally be supportive in understanding your needs. Your Force can also make allowances if your condition impacts on your performance at work.
Famous Examples of Neurodiversity…
“No matter what mayhem is happening around me, I know I can always turn inward.“ – Susan Cain
The quote above is relevant in that those with neurodiverse conditions often display introverted behaviours and have a preference for autonomous working. They are able to look inwardly as a response to this VUCA world, rather than get caught up in the chaos. Introversion is different to merely being ‘shy’, which is more about being concerned with what others think. One valuable leadership trait of introverts for example is the ability to allow others to progress their own ideas and do that difficult thing of getting out of the way! Here’s more of Susan’s insights around those ‘thinking differently’ in this way…
Some of the greatest minds in history, who have made some of the greatest discoveries and contributions to society, have disclosed their (or been retrospectively ‘diagnosed’ as having) neurodiverse conditions. The link above provides an example list as food for thought, but the following are some examples in which I find particular inspiration…
Alan Turing is infamous for his work at Bletchley Park, pioneering the technology to decrypt the code of Nazi Germany’s secret communications during World War II. Psychologists have retrospectively assessed him as having Asperger’s, finding evidence in historical records of him meeting all of the six Gillberg criteria for diagnosis: Severe impairment in reciprocal social interaction; All-absorbing narrow interest; Impositions of routines and interests (on self or others); Nonverbal communication problems; Speech and language problems; Motor clumsiness. His legacy is why GCHQ and others are actively recruiting neurodiverse individuals, recognising their ability and potential in thinking differently.
Elon Musk is someone I’ve taken inspiration from before and blogged about in ‘Failing to Better Yourself’, in which I discuss seeing failure as a means to an end and CPD opportunity. His record on making ground-breaking technologies a reality is self-explanatory, from nanotechnology to vast space exploration, with the bold ambition “to die on Mars, just not on impact”. In the clip below, he quips about his Asperger’s. He also describes himself as having to say, “I mean that”, having the self-awareness that the lack of intonation in his voice and other nonverbal communication cues may be misunderstood, requiring other emphases to better communicate with others. This amusing phrase is also insightful, to better understand those who have had to work on their emotional intelligence: “Normally I’m pretty good at running ‘human’ in emulation mode.”
Albert Einstein is thought to have had autistic traits, given his trouble socialising, technical and mathematical genius, and echolalia (repeating what others say). I often find (and share!) inspiration from beyond his infamous technical genius to include his philosophical thoughts on life. One famous quote relevant to policing, especially when it comes to repeated promotion board attempts is, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. it is one of the things that inspired this blog on thinking differently.
Temple Grandin is an author, leading professor in animal sciences, and has been outspoken about her autism, emphasising how it makes her “different, not less”. She has also clearly thought more deeply about the world in a way that also relates to policing, as demonstrated in her quote below.
“When I was younger, I was looking for this magic meaning of life. It’s very simple now: Making the lives of others better, doing something of lasting value.” – Temple Grandin
Stephen Wiltshire is a successful artist with an unparalleled ability to draw scenes and cityscapes with his phenomenally photographic memory. The subject of a BBC documentary in 2001, Fragments of Genius, he has since become renowned as the best cityscape illustrator on Earth. He received his first high-profile commission aged just 8, for the British Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher. See some of Stephen’s stunning work and inspiring story here.
Steve Jobs has been retrospectively cited as having autistic tendencies, evidenced by his relentless drive for perfection, his groundbreakingly different thinking, and lack of empathy in dealing with employees and others.
Richard Branson is famous for his people- and customer-centred style of business innovation and leadership, though few knew about his dyslexia. Dyslexia is something he is open about and believes has helped him in life, as shown in the video below. He emphasises the importance of concentrating on the things you are good at to excel in life. This is also something UK police forces are tuning in to, with the introduction of strengths-based interviews for some police promotion processes.
It is clear from these examples that people can achieve extraordinary accomplishments aided by thinking differently to others. As I touched on in the introduction, The Dyslexic Advantage is good general reading material on this subject, using an evidence-based approach to demonstrate that while those with Dyslexia may perceive written information differently, they may instead excel at spatial reasoning, connecting patterns in information, and demonstrating great creativity in problem-solving. All the famous examples listed above achieved great things because they played to their strengths; one of these of course being the grit and determination to overcome personal challenges or obstacles along the way.
I hope you found this content informative and helpful. In the next blog on neurodiversity, I will explore some more of those typical strengths of atypical thinkers, propose some relevant CPD, and consider the future of thinking differently in policing. It’s nearly compiled already, so watch this space and I welcome your thoughts/feedback in the comments below or by email.
Kind Regards, Steve
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