Police and vulnerable communities – a mixed methods study of interactions between police and the autism community in Australia

Ms Vicki Gibbs1, Ms Kaaren Haas1, Dr Susan Bruck1,2

1Autism Spectrum Australia, Sydney, Australia, 2Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia


Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social interaction and social communication and is associated with restricted and repetitive behaviours and activities. People on the autism spectrum are at higher risk of coming into contact with police and, due to their social difficulties, may be more vulnerable in these situations.

This research study aimed to:

(1)  Describe the nature of interactions between people on the spectrum and police in Australia

(2) Explore whether any individual (age, respondent type, co-morbid mental health, co-morbid intellectual disability) or contextual (disclosure, type of involvement with police) factors influence perceptions of police interactions;

(3)  Explore how autism-related characteristics may affect interactions with police; and

(4) Identify professional development opportunities that could support police interactions with people on the spectrum.


Autistic adults and parents/carers were invited to complete an online questionnaire and interview about their or their family member’s experience during an interaction with police in the proceeding five years. Questions included demographic information, clinical characteristics, disclosure, nature of the interaction, perceptions of procedural justice and levels of satisfaction.


The survey was completed by 50 adults and 70 parents/carers. Interviews were conducted with 30 respondents.

This presentation will report on: under what circumstances people on the spectrum are interacting with police in Australia; how interactions are perceived by autistic people and their family members; to what extent autism related difficulties have impacted on these interactions and suggestions from the autism community about strategies police can employ to interact effectively with autistic people.


Vicki is a Clinical Psychologist and National Manager of Aspect Research Centre for Autism Practice. Vicki has specialised training and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) in children and adults. Vicki has presented at numerous national and international conferences, workshops and training seminars and has co-authored a number of published papers into autism assessment. Vicki has recently developed an Australian first autism training module for police.

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