Information for the Police

On this page we have concise information about:

  • What is the Devon Autism Alert Card
  • Eligibility for the card
  • Benefits of the card for people on the Autism Spectrum
  • Benefits of the card for people shown it
  • Common behavioural traits shared by Autistic individuals
  • How to interact with people on the Autism Spectrum
  • How to respond to a distressed person who is on the Spectrum


What is the Autism Alert Card?


The Autism Alert Card is a small credit card sized plastic card that may be carried by an autistic individual to identify that they are on the autistic spectrum.

Individuals on the autistic spectrum are not readily identifiable although there may be some common behavioural or visual clues. There is no one size fits all for individuals on the spectrum and so the alert card is a visual way to provide this information.

The aim of showing the card is to defuse the potentially difficult situation and allow the autistic individual to feel safe and secure so they may become less agitated and anxious and the situation dealt with in the best way for all involved.

There are also Autism Alert car stickers that may be displayed in car windows to identify that someone is autistic should the vehicle be involved in a road traffic collision.

There is more about the Devon Autism Alert Card here

Who is eligible to receive an Autism Alert Card?


The Autism Alert Card can be issued to individuals aged 10 or over who live anywhere in Devon, although similar schemes are in place in other areas of the country and so the card and awareness about the disability may be recognised elsewhere.

Click on these for further details on how to apply for the Autism Card and who is eligible for an Alert Card.

How will the Autism Alert Card benefit autistic individuals?


People on the autistic spectrum can often feel overwhelmed by noise, eye contact, questions, feelings, touch, smells, conversation, lights, people....This especially happens in stressful situations and it can then be a challenge to tell others about being autistic.

The Autism Alert Card has been designed for autistic people to show to those they are interacting with should they be feeling distressed or likely to become so. It is then for the recipient to acknowledge this and amend the style of interaction in accordance with the individual’s needs.

Handling the autism alert card in awkward or difficult situations can also serve as sensory focus for an autistic individual to keep other sensory issues from intruding. This supportive feeling may also be reinforced in the knowledge that there are many organisations supporting the card.

How will the Autism Alert Card benefit the recipient?


When an autistic person shows their autism alert card it is likely they will be feeling:

• stressed and need assistance
• likely to become distressed which may include being expected to conform to mainstream norms that do not feel right to the autistic person

Early identification that a person is autistic will allow the recipient to adapt their interaction style based on the individual’s needs. This will assist in preventing any possible unusual behaviour from being misinterpreted by the recipient. In turn, this early identification may assist in preventing a potentially difficult situation from being approached in a way that could escalate the circumstances for all involved causing further distress to the autistic person.

Common Behavioural Traits of an Autistic Individual


  • Need time to process information, verbal or written. This is often because they are thinking in a far more complex way than might be expected of an individual who is not autistic.
  • Have unusual emotional sensitivity. Autistic individuals tend to experience emotions much more intensely and can become overloaded with sensory input. Sight, sound, touch and smell and this can suddenly overwhelm the sensory processing for an autistic individual.
  • Be overwhelmed by any kind of conversation. Small talk is not something that, in general, is understood by autistic individuals. Generally a conversation is for a purpose.
  • In stressful situations autistic individuals often have coping mechanisms and behaviour patterns which might appear strange or very rude to others. In some situations an autistic person can feel so overwhelmed that they are unable to act in any other way and it may come across as disrespectful to a person who is not autistic.

How to best interact with Autistic Individuals


  • DO take responsibility and adapt any interaction style according to the autistic individual’s needs.
  • DO show respect. It is impossible to know what is going on inside the head of an autistic person. However, if an autistic person perceives someone as being rude or aggressive, they will replicate this often more overtly, sometimes by not knowing how to deal with the situation in any other way.
  • DO remain flexible. Autism is a disability. Autistic individuals need to understand reasoning behind requests made of them. It can deeply distress an autistic individual to be made to do something when they do not understand the reason why.
  • DO speak slowly, softly and calmly. Lessen the sensory input. Loud voices can be interpreted as anger. However, individuals may want to talk fast and in a complex way and so speaking slowly may sometimes be seen as patronising. Remain flexible and adapt according to the individual’s style.
  • DO avoid eye contact. Eye contact can be very painful to individuals on the spectrum. Eye contact can be misunderstood and can also feel very threatening.
  • DO take note of the text on the back of the card. The autistic individual is making the card recipient aware of their condition so that they may adapt their interaction and communication style to meet the individual’s needs.

How to best respond if the autistic person is distressed…


  • DO offer them a calm place away from people and sensory input. Explain that this is beneficial on both sides. It is difficult to change an autistic person’s behaviour until they have had the chance to calm down in a quiet environment. It is important to remember that they might be afraid, frustrated or confused.
  • DO speak a little more slowly and clearly, not raising voices and avoiding eye contact. Not rushing the conversation will help the autistic individual by giving additional time to absorb and process the information. An autistic person will want to consider a piece of information from every aspect and this takes time, so be patient and don't interrupt.
  • DO allow plenty of time to process information. If quick replies are received from the autistic individual, then accuracy cannot be expected. The individual is much more likely to be saying anything to get out of the stressful situation.
  • DO give reasons for actions and requests. If touching an autistic individual is required then it is paramount that the individual is told exactly what is going to be done and the reason for this. Many individuals on the autistic spectrum are hypersensitive to touch and many may have had traumatic episodes involving touch. Touching an autistic individual without permission and without a clear and valid reason may have unfortunate consequences.
  • DO ask the individual what they would like to be called and use that exact name. Do not use another name or shorten it in any way. If they say their name is Jonathan, do not call them John, Jonny or any other form of Jonathan.
  • DO phone the contacts on the autism alert card and explain that this will be done.
  • DO commentate on what is going on. Autistic individuals do not read facial expressions or body language like people who are not autistic and so may be confused if not given clear communication.
  • DO NOT say ‘I see you are frustrated, hurt, angry…’ or similar. This may come across as arrogant and ignorant. It is likely that the autistic individual is experiencing sensory overload which cannot be described in emotional terms, hence it may be perceived in a negative way.

Read more here about what to do if shown an Alert Card