National Police Autism Association (BTP Section)


Another of our looks at the history of the various support groups within BTP.

The National Police Autism Association (NPAA) was launched in October 2015 by John Nelson, a former Hampshire Constabulary Police officer who transferred to British Transport Police in 2018 and retained his role as National Chair. Its aim is to assist forces in supporting employees who are affected personally or as carers by neurodiverse conditions and to act as an advocate for the concept of neurodiversity; this is an umbrella term that was coined in the late 90’s by Australian author Judy Singer. Rather than an actual condition, neurodiversity is a respectful way of thinking about those who may have one of a number of neurological or cognitive differences such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and other hidden disabilities.

The NPAA originally grew out of an internal autism support group in Hampshire Constabulary, which was chaired by John. The support group received a request of support for an autistic officer in another Force which is when John realised there was no national support group in place to cater for autism and neurodiversity. As an ex-IT professional, John had the idea of creating a national group based around an online web forum, which is still active. Police officers, staff and volunteers from anywhere in the UK can register to join for free, they can chat to other members, provide support and advice along with exchanging information. The NPAA has more than 1,500 members nationally across various ranks/grades.

Neurodiverse individuals think and interpret information differently to most people who are referred to as neurotypical, these individuals think and process information in the way society expects. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) estimates that around 1 in 7 people (more than 15% of people in the UK) are neurodiverse. The NPAA works to create a workplace environment and culture in which neurodiverse individuals can fulfil their potential, be valued for their strengths and the advantages they bring to the workforce.

In February 2016 British Transport Police acknowledged the NPAA and it’s potential as an Employee Support Association, it wasn’t until December 2016 that the BTP Branch was launched with the first chair being announced as Ashley Forbes. He said “Despite being the chair for only a small time firstly it was privilege to be so, especially given how close to my family the subject of Autism is”. During his time as chair Ashley mentored an autistic 17 year old to become a community volunteer, the male became a valuable resource, providing great assistance at engagement events whether they were on the concourse or out at agricultural shows flying the BTP flag and engaging with the public. He delivered inputs to his officers to increase their knowledge of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and provided advice to a number of officers who were struggling with obtaining a diagnosis for family members or with the impacts of having a family member diagnosed with ASD. Ashley continues to be a representative of the NPAA in D Division (Scotland).

On 28th February 2018 Eve Cole took over as chair of the BTP branch, then in December 2020 Eve Cole and Daniel Williamson became co-chairs of the BTP branch. As a team Eve and Daniel have

  • Secured a contract with a recognised provider for ‘easy read’ symbol sheets within B Division custody suites, providing enhanced support for neurodiverse individuals during the custody process.
  • Provided neurodiversity awareness training to a number of departments / colleagues to improve understanding and support
  • Become the first Dyslexia Workplace Assessors within BTP
  • Provided support to individuals and line managers on a number of matters following referrals
  • Formed the Ability & Neurodiversity Steering Group working with the Ability Network to identify, develop and implement good Disability and Neurodiversity practice or respond to risks or gaps in service
  • Regularly attended BTPs Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Forum and Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Forum

The NPAA is still relatively new and in its infancy compared to other Employee Support Associations, regardless of this it is now an integral part of British Transport Police’s journey to improve equality, diversity and inclusion within the organisation. It strives to create an inclusive workplace free from stigma, bullying and harassment so neurodiverse individuals can bring their true self to work and thrive. The BTP branch continues to support employees by raising awareness, providing advice and contributing to the development of BTP policies and the agenda on equality, diversity and inclusion.

Eve Cole, explains why the NPAA and BTP branch is so important: With a passion to support those within the organisation and community who are Neurodiverse it was a honour to take on the role as chair. I continue to advocate for positive change which BTP actively engage with to support their employees; by raising awareness of Neurodiversity we are one step closer to breaking down barriers, increasing confidence so individuals can be their true selves and improving awareness of a ‘spiky profile’ to enable individuals to reach their full potential within the workplace. Both Daniel Williamson and I are working on a number of projects to bring the changes needed for the organisation to recognise the possibilities that come from the skillsets of those who ‘think differently’.

Link to the National Police Autism Association website.