Alert cards to help autistic people cope with strangers

Jenny Bruce

Jenny Bruce

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EVEN the most straight- forward of social situations can be daunting for people with autism – never mind an unexpected encounter with the emergency services.

But sufferers across the city are to get a boost from an “Autism Alert Card” designed to help them cope.

Those with the condition can hand it to the authorities if they are victims of crime or accidents.

It includes details of a personal contact who can advise on the best way to support them, and information for an independent expert to help if a person with autism is being interviewed as a witness or suspect.

Jenny Bruce, 25, from Kirkliston, has Asperger syndrome and knows only too well how much the card could help.

She said: “I’m not good at reading people’s body language or reading facial expressions, and I can get anxious if I’m meeting new people.”

Ms Bruce, who works at the The Gallery On The Corner in Northumberland Street, experienced her own brush with police which left her shaken. She said: “We were having a party at a friend’s flat and someone accidentally knocked a bottle out of the window so someone in the pub below contacted the police about it.

“They came the next day, when I was staying over. They were just trying to find out what happened but I was quite anxious because I found the uniforms quite scary and they made me feel intimidated.

“It would help to have the card if a similar situation arose in future. I just think it would help with situations when people are wondering why you’re acting strangely, because if you show them that then they might understand a bit more.”

The scheme has been set up by Lothian and Borders Police, the National Autistic Society Scotland and Autism Initiatives Scotland to help the 10,000 people across the region diagnosed with some form of autism.

Kieron Colville, 23, a volunteer receptionist from Deans, Livingston, who also has Asperger syndrome, also supported its launch.

He said the card would help during a range of encounters with authority figures, such as one he had with a bus driver who recently queried his bus pass. He said: “I had changed my hair colour to red and unfortunately, when I was coming home on the bus, this driver was being pretty nasty to me and saying ‘Get that picture changed, get that pass changed’.

“The same bus driver had been doing it for about a month. The final time he did it he was really aggressive and I felt shocked and couldn’t tell him I had autism because I was scared he would get even more angry. If I had the alert card it would have taken the heat out of the situation.”

Deputy Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police, Steve Allen, welcomed the card’s introduction, saying: “Supporting our communities and reducing risk, especially for those with the greatest needs, is at the heart of Lothian and Borders Police.

“Our staff will continue to support and encourage those who would benefit from using the card to apply for and use it each and every time they need our help or assistance.”

To apply for the card, contact 0131-551 7260 or alertcard@aiscotland.org.uk.