I last blogged about neurodiversity in policing in a two-part blog in 2021. In Part 1, I defined and explained the meaning of ‘neurodiversity’ and Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASCs). I shared the prevalence of ASCs in the UK, famous examples of those who have achieved great things, and the relevance of ‘thinking differently’ to UK police promotion. In my thoroughly-researched Part 2, I explored typical strengths of atypical thinkers, proposed relevant CPD for aspiring police leaders, and considered what the future of thinking differently in policing may hold.
Here in Part 3 I revisit the subject two years on, aiming to continue encouraging people to think differently about neurodiversity in policing. This includes ‘thinking outside de Bono’, what’s changed in recent years, and some experiences and perspectives of neurodiverse officers who aspire to the role of Sergeant and beyond to Chief Inspector.
“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
If you prefer watching or listening to content, see me discuss neurodiversity and support in policing in the video below. Otherwise, read on.,.
Why Can’t You Be Normal?
The neurodiversity movement began in the late 1990s. Sociologist Judy Singer (who is on the autism spectrum herself) coined the word to describe conditions such as Dyslexia, autism, and ADHD. Singer, an Australian sociologist, first used the term Neurodiversity in her sociology honours thesis in 1996-1998 and describing herself has said “I’m not quite disabled and I am not quite mainstream.”
Judy recognised that neurological differences are the result of natural variations to the human genome. After all, the ultimate diversity is the individual, and everyone is different as defined by their unique genetics.
“I think the concept of Neurodiversity has been world-changing, by giving us a new perspective on humanity, but it needs to mature to the point where we see that human nature is complex, and nature is beautiful but not benign.” – Judy Singer
Singer’s work on autism and neurodiversity became widely known as a result of her chapter, “Why Can’t You be Normal for Once in Your Life?” This was based on her thesis published in the UK in 1999, in Disability Discourse (Mairian Corker, Open University Press, February 1, 1999, p64).
What is Neurodiversity?
What does ‘neurodiversity’ mean exactly? ‘Neurodiversity’ is contemporary lexicon, coined by Judy Singer, for describing the broad spectrum of conditions such as autism, Asperger Syndrome, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and ADHD.
Neurodiversity is an important concept to understand if you’re aspiring to police promotion and leadership positions, being an integral part of diversity, equality and inclusion in policing. Not least given the challenging situation of the postcode lottery of UK police promotion I often allude to and which presents different challenges for different people.
I explain more terminology and definitions in my first blog on neurodiversity in policing. But while you’re here, you might like to review the following additional sources. First, here’s a handy teacher’s guide to neurodiversity in the classroom. Second, I’ve embedded a quick video below simply explaining what neurodiversity is and its difference to ‘neurotypical’.
If you’d like to dive deeper, you might also like to grab a copy of the well-reviewed book, ‘The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain’.
With the definitions sorted out, let’s explore how things in policing and leadership have changed, since I wrote my first blog in this series two years ago…
Policing: Are We There Yet?
“The direction you choose to face determines whether you’re standing at the end or the beginning of a road.” – Richelle E. Goodrich
Neurodiversity is an alternative approach to learning and disability that shifts the focus from ‘treatment and cures’ to acceptance and accommodation. Within UK policing, there are recent signs of traction concerning inclusion and support for neurodiverse staff. You may argue however, that there is some way yet to go.
Like many organisations striving to be more inclusive and innovative in attracting and recruiting neurodiverse individuals, the College of Policing (CoP) appointed Assistant Chief Officer Alexis Poole to lead for neurodiversity within policing. Soon after my neurodiversity sequel blog in 2021, the CoP published a glossary of terms for all officers, staff and volunteers. They aimed to help raise awareness and enhance understanding of neurodiversity within policing, by collating frequently used terms. The document was however met with mixed reception from rank-and-file police officers and staff. For example, see replies in the thread below:
In the wider policing context, there is now recognition that around one in three people moving through the criminal justice system are thought to be neurodivergent. A new Neurodiversity Tasking Action Group (NTAG) was just recently formed in the Metropolitan Police, in December 2022. This recognises the importance for all managers to have training, so they can get the best from their staff and better provide a supportive work environment.
The working group aims to develop national guidance/training, while expanding partnership working around neurodiversity. Focus points include management training to support neurodivergent colleagues, plus training for frontline police officers to improve outcomes at incidents. For example, ‘sensory overload’ for some neurodivergent individuals can lead to physical resistance; this may be misunderstood by some officers as resisting arrest or lack of compliance.
Other police forces across England and Wales are developing their own guidance and policies. So today, it’s clear UK policing is taking neurodiversity more seriously in the last couple of years. Whether it’s action to address policies and support for neurodiverse officers and staff, or recognising this issue in terms of legitimacy relating to public trust and confidence.
In addition, groups like the Disabled Police Association (DPA), National Police Autism Association (NPAA), and influential individuals within policing are actively raising awareness, changing attitudes, and informing policy and leadership considerations. Their aim is to support and enable a working environment where all staff can innovate, thrive, and excel.
“We cannot accept a wait to fail model for disabilities. People and different thinkers are our greatest asset to tackling policing problems and protecting our communities.” – Dyslexic Inspector (Twitter @JBDyslexic)
In the context of the myriad of police promotion and selection processes however, specific support options and good working practice are not so clear (more about that to follow). Questions remain, including:
- How can UK policing be more inclusive in supporting aspiring neurodiverse people wanting to progress their leadership career?
- What support actually works?
- Within the current various assessment tests used across police forces, what thought (or otherwise) is given to specifically considering the needs of neurodiverse individuals, especially whether the tests discriminate?
- What reasonable adjustments are available?
- Which attitudes need to change?
- What is the leadership required?
Is Policing Wasting Potential?
“Inclusivity is about far more than reaching quotas and espousing vapid commitments to diversity. An authentic and meaningful commitment to diversity and inclusion necessitates the cultivation of workplace environments and policies that enable all employees to excel.” – Dr Maureen Dunne
Most people are ‘neurotypical’, meaning that their brain processes information and functions in the way society broadly expects. That said, it is estimated that around 1 in 7 people in the UK are neurodivergent in some way.
Many organisations market themselves as inclusive, but don’t implement the required internal processes to support their diverse workforce. So their commitments may appear self-serving or misdirected, critiqued as ‘virtue-signalling’.
In her article, ‘What workplace model best suits neurodiverse employees?’, neurodiversity expert Dr Maureen Dunne states:
“52% of those with dyslexia have experienced discrimination in the interview process, and 60% of those with ADHD felt they had lost a job due to their neurodiversity.”
By claiming inclusivity without the evidence or processes in place to back it up, organisations (including policing) risk isolating a cohort of people. Thereby, they’re missing out on talent and wasting the potential of such individuals.
With an increasing awareness of ASCs like autism, dyslexia, and ADHD within policing, how is this being addressed? What adjustments are available to individuals diagnosed with these or other neurodivergent conditions? What options do they have? How do they go about acquiring this confidence boosting information in advance of going for promotion?
By failing to effectively support and accommodate neurodiverse officers and staff aspiring to formal leadership positions, are forces wasting human potential and ability to make a meaningful contribution to the wider policing mission?
After all, forces spend public money and use consultancies to design the components of their promotion selection processes. Not least to ensure they are effective in promoting those with most leadership potential and importantly (amongst other things), fair. So who will be the first Chief Constable to commission an external provider to design, test, and implement a promotion selection process (and other career progression opportunities) inclusive of neurodiverse people too? I’d happily interview you in my podcast to discuss your initiative and share with a wider audience, so please get in touch!
Good practice clearly exists in pockets of policing for making assessment processes ‘neurodiverse-friendly’. I cover a range of example ‘reasonable adjustments’ in my DEI Part 3 blog. Here’s more tips specifically relating to creating neurodiverse-friendly assessment. You might also like my video below, summarising a report into police Workplace Adjustments for individuals with a disability or neurodiverse condition…
Learning from Listening
I’m regularly contacted by neurodiverse officers seeking information and support with navigating promotion selection processes. Phone conversations sometimes start quite directly with their most pressing questions, such as:
“Are your masterclasses suitable for neurodiverse officers?”
“Are your promotion toolkits for dyslexics?”
Over time, and through continuous improvement of my services, I’ve learned the short answer to both is ‘Yes’ (see example case studies later on). However, I understand neurodiverse conditions are not experienced the same way by everyone and I will ask, “Can you expand a little on what you mean by that?” I then listen to what follows. Individuals often share with me their personal experience around previous promotion attempts and their personal quest to find available support to better themselves and try again.
I recognise the grit and growth mindset associated with their experiences, along with some significant frustrations. On occasion, I’m party to observing some awesome resilience.
By simply listening, I have heard many accounts of lived experiences, from officers who are NPPF qualified, but have become resigned to the fact that meaningful support for the next competitive steps is not available from their force (hence why Rank Success exists!).
I also hear about pockets of good practice and inspiring personal stories. For example:
- I’ve listened to inspiring examples of how individuals have developed bespoke coping strategies and mechanisms simply to get through life, manage daily routines and to navigate work challenges.
- I get to hear of outstanding supervisors who “went the extra mile to help”, or even “surfed ahead of me to HR and came back with information to reduce my uncertainty and anxiety about what I needed to do. This was a relief as it was quite straightforward in the end.”
- Simple but valued support has included being provided with a copy of ‘important candidate information’ in advance. This referred to parts of the force promotion application form that will be used in the promotion selection process. There are no secrets around this, just the process guidance and questions to ascertain need for reasonable adjustments and disability definitions, one of which is around ‘neurodiverse conditions’.
A common thread on the good side of things is the tailoring afforded to individuals, recognising everyone is unique. After all, there’s not broad-brush solutions to any of this, otherwise it would be called ‘neurouniformity’!
The less positive (and even disastrous) experiences often stem from lack of leadership awareness, unsupportive attitudes, and reluctance to disclose a condition. These have included:
- Supervisors being “always too busy, never accessible” or “unapproachable” for asking questions “in confidence”. No time for supportive discussions about career development, promotion or curt missives e.g. “Just get the application in by the closing date. I’ll look at it then. It’s the same for everyone.”
- Supervisors unaware even of the concept of reasonable adjustments and therefore not being proactive with facilitating support. “Speak to HR nearer the time, they’ll tell you.”
- Candidates asking their force HR for assistance only to be asked in return, “What adjustments do you need? We’ll see what can be done”. A stalemate ensues when they reply, “I don’t know what adjustments are available or being offered, but I’d like to be able to know some options before I decide if I need it.” Understandably this can be demoralising, frustrating and increase uncertainty.
Another interesting story and learning point for me is as follows. One officer informed me they had dyslexia, and asked if it was true that “I can get extra time to read before the promotion board briefing exercise?”. I encouraged a visit to their force HR office, explaining that the Equality Act 2010 alludes to neurodiverse conditions as an example of the protected characteristic of Disability. I assured them there should be information on the application process, explaining the benefits of requesting reasonable adjustments relating to Disability.
The reply came back aghast: “Disabled? Is being dyslexic disabled? Seriously?” That was insightful for me, because I had failed to recognise that many individuals with neurodiverse conditions, even if they have been formally diagnosed, will not think of themselves as disabled.
What are your thoughts on these lived experiences? Do they resonate with you and/or your own reasons for aspiring to a formal leadership position, and being part of future changes? How would you support those you lead?
What Works for Promotion?
I find that both neurotypical and neurodiverse officers struggle with aspects of promotion selection processes. Common reasons include:
- Not starting preparation well in advance of promotion opportunities arising.
- Not knowing how to structure or present examples/evidence in a way that ’scores’ and adheres to or reflects the behaviour descriptors being assessed.
- Rushing application forms, which as a result contain spelling or grammar mistakes or both.
It’s why I offer bespoke PC to Sergeant and Sergeant to Inspector / Chief Inspector toolkits, to explain what works and demonstrate what good looks like. These are well-received among neurodiverse and neurotypical individuals alike, as I share in the closing ‘case study’ sections of this blog alluding to neurodiverse clients, form whom I have received feedback.
These toolkits cover all elements of promotion selection processes (from applications to interviews and presentations / briefings) and how to prepare effectively ahead of the curve. There’s even detailed examples of what good evidence looks like, aligned to competencies and values, and at the level of the rank you aspire to! You can use these to raise your awareness, fill your knowledge gaps and increase your confidence for the process.
There’s also a 4-hour HD Promotion Masterclass video option, presented by yours truly. This leads you as an aspiring candidate through focus areas and allows you to stop, start, and rewatch/relisten as you need to. For those who prefer an interactive live masterclass event, the next two are on Feb 18th and March 18th 2023, where I will be delivering classes at the National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull, Birmingham. Here’s the booking and information link and I will also be delivering some more classes towards the end of the year.
These masterclasses have been attended by officers who have shared with me beforehand (or after the event) that they have e.g. dyslexia and were under the impression it had been holding them back. It may have been, but not it would appear in achieving promotion, I’ve provided workshop handouts in different colours for individuals by request, but they have clearly been able to succeed, in spite of and despite potential limitations.
Knowledge is important, but nothing happens without you taking action. Officers who adopt and include the toolkit guidance, tips and insights as part of their approach to effective preparation are often kind enough to inform me of their success in the feedback people share with me.
The following two sections provide some more in-depth feedback from neurodiverse candidates who found great value from my ND-friendly support. The case studies may resonate with you or colleagues…
Case Study: ‘A Hard Reboot’
“There’s never going to be a golden solution to my ND issues.”
That (support info) looks perfect, I’ll read that this morning and soak up what I can. Same with your CVF explainer video. I was able to watch it over the weekend but I want to watch it again so I don’t miss anything!
Thanks for taking the time to get back to me, I really do appreciate it. I think I’d lost sight of what I needed. There’s never going to be a golden solution to my ND issues, but in talking to you, you’ve given me the hard reboot I needed to remember I can beat this, first and foremost because I’m a capable candidate.
I’ve been listening to your Lee Freeman interview on the drive in this morning; he sounds like the Chief Constable we all need! I’ve not finished it yet, but it’s been interesting listening to how he articulates his leadership style.
The last year as DS has added a lot more practical depth to my views on the roles and functions of a Sergeant. I understand a lot more clearly, why my past ability as a DC or operational competence really doesn’t hold much sway at all in a board or in an application. I’m judged based on the successes or failures of my staff, and in the role I am now, I must spend 75% of my time on managing personnel issues and extracting the best out of people. My department attracts ND staff because of the technical nature of the role. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were over 40% which makes for a particularly complex dynamic that I’m uniquely placed to navigate.
Freeman’s input is brilliant, makes me realise that I’m already doing a lot of what he’s explaining, but I’m not explaining that AT ALL. My next shot at a board is a few months away, so whilst I’m not under time pressure, my plan is to re-evaluate a lot of the areas of this I take for granted. I’ve several months now to raise my own bar at my own pace, so I go in with as much of a banked head start as possible, before I spin the wheel and see where my ADHD takes me on the given day.
Right now I feel a lot more positive about this, I’m grateful to you and can’t praise you enough for the support and the resources you put out for people. You really make a difference.
Case study: ‘An Out of Tune Radio’
“I still find I am learning everyday about my condition and what works for me, things take me a lot longer, but I tend to persist.”
I will try to explain as best I can how my dyslexia affects me. I was diagnosed with dyslexia in my early 30’s. It was a penny drop moment and explained a lot of things in life.
The assessors were good and explained that I had naturally put a lot of coping mechanisms in place already. My dyslexia showed that my reading and processing speed were slow. It also picked up a working memory issue, in that I could easily become overloaded if things became complicated or if I became overloaded. A bit like a filing cabinet, things dropping off the back or becoming jumbled.
A colleague described me as being like a radio, which occasionally went out of tune and needed re-tuning. I substitute words if I find I cannot spell the one I want. Or simplify it and change the sentence to make it easier to read.
I had a specialist eye test which showed I was light sensitive and white was almost like snow blindness and off white, difficult to describe. My word rate capture was also low, meaning I fell behind others on tasks, reading and taking in information. This makes studying and processing information harder and puts me at a disadvantage.
But oddly I love reading and my wife says I read faster than her. I find my perspective of things can give me a different view / advantage. So where others are doing puzzles or word games or sudoku, sometimes they get stuck and cannot see the pattern or the word. I will look at it and am able to solve it.
I still find I am learning everyday about my condition and still learning what works for me. I have prescription glasses which are colour tinted, but they also somehow address and increase the word rate capture. Green background helps a lot and makes white appear as normal white for me. It takes stress off my eyes.
I visually get numbers mixed up sometimes or the words seem shimmering or strange if not in the font Arial 12. I notice other oddities, but tend not to share these with others.
I did a test to see what my learning / study styles were. They came out as kinaesthetic and visual. People often think of kinaesthetic learning as just through a physical activity, so like running or boxing. But it is so much more. For me it’s a more ‘kinaesthetic-tactile’ learning style, requiring that you manipulate or touch material to learn. Kinaesthetic-tactile techniques are used in combination with visual and/or auditory study techniques, producing multi-sensory learning. I lean very much towards the multi-sensory style.
Visual learner means you learn by reading or seeing pictures. You understand and remember things by sight. You can picture what you are learning in your head, and you learn best by using methods that are primarily visual. You like to see what you are learning. I don’t think these are as simple as they sound. For example, I would describe myself as someone who likes to see how something is done by example, and then give it a go myself. I quite often use YouTube for DIY videos to fix things at home or on the car or some other issue.
I struggle to find material that I can utilise and take with me. Most material relies on an internet connection, which quite frequently I do not have. For me your products are a gift. I find I can listen to them whilst cooking, walking, and exercising. I can watch and feel like I am in personal session with you when I am relaxing. Having my own personal masterclass video to suit my schedule or locations is important to me. I feel I miss out on so much more, as if I had other police training material in an audio format like this, it would be a delight and essential help for me.
38 Years in the Dark
“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” – E. E. Cummings
As I allude to earlier, many officers and staff go through much of their career being undiagnosed as to their neurodiversity or ASC. As a prelude to an upcoming guest blog and in closing to this mammoth one, I’d like to share a fantastic new podcast I learned about while writing this blog. It’s published by the Late Discovered Club, which is a podcast that “gives late discovered autistic women a voice with self-discovery stories & compassionate conversations”.
Here in a very insightful, open and honest conversation, Detective Inspector Becky Davies (Twitter @Becky_Davie5) of Devon and Cornwall Police talks about her late discovered autism at age 38. Becky also shares with listeners how adverse experiences as an undiagnosed neurodiverse woman, as well as her own grit and determination to overcome cognitive and communication challenges, has led her to become an advocate for others. Enjoy!
I really enjoyed listening to her insights. She’s clearly very articulate, open, and transparent with her experiences. I learned something new, for example when she talks about eye contact and how that can be misinterpreted by people. I hope you’ll agree, the talk is another tremendous source of inspiration for others in policing.
“Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment? Cybernetics and computer culture, for example, may favour a somewhat autistic cast of mind.” – Harvey Blume
Kind Regards, Steve
Want to go further right now? Hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, and/or my Police Promotion Masterclass. You can also contact me to arrange personal coaching support. If you first want to explore completely free content, I have a collection of videos, eGuides, and podcast.