Updated: Feb 21
Article written collaboratively with Caterina Bruce, Senior Specialist Speech and Language Therapist.
This is the story of Ben* (aged 18 years 4 months).
*Ben is not a real name.
Ben has had social difficulties throughout childhood and adolescence.
He prefers to spend time alone than in the company of others.
This is how Ben describes himself:
"I feel different to everybody else…people tell me I'm doing the wrong thing when I think I'm doing things right."
Ben is attending college but struggling to achieve. He has achieved pass grades in basic GCSEs but failed others.
Recently, he was dismissed from his job at Co-op for general misconduct.
Specifically, he declined to provide a customer with a replacement carrier bag free-of-charge after the first one splits.
Ben insists that the customer must pay for a replacement bag, as giving this away for free would mean Ben might be disciplined for stealing Co-op property.
Ben was arrested into Police Custody. Alleged offence: stalking involving fear of violence.
The custody sergeant who booked in Ben did not notice signs of speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), and Ben did not disclose SLCN or any additional needs.
Ben declined an Appropriate Adult and Solicitor (He later discloses to the Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) that he didn’t understand what these were, and therefore declined the offer of these services).
Ben was released from custody with bail conditions (which prohibit him from having any communication with the victim) and a court date.
Ben is rearrested into Police Custody for breach of his bail conditions.
Specifically, he has 'liked' one of the victim's Facebook posts - Ben maintains that this does not constitute a ‘communication', since his interpretation of 'communication' is a reciprocal exchange of words.
Custody Sergeant booking-in Ben on this day had recently attended Speech and Language Therapy (SaLT) training from the SLT.
He notices that Ben is slow to answer questions and avoids making eye-contact.
Ben is referred to Sussex Liaison and Diversion Service for a SaLT assessment, which the SLT conducts ahead of his police interview.
On the basis of the results from the SaLT assessment, an Appropriate Adult and Solicitor are instructed.
The SLT writes and shares a report with Probation, the client, the Police and Solicitor.
Formal and Informal Assessments
A range of assessments were used, such as the Clinical Evaluation Language Fundamentals (CELF), One Word Picture Vocabulary Test, Cookie Theft Picture Test etc.
Auditory-verbal processing and memory
Slow and restricted (tested using CELF-Understanding Spoken Paragraphs).
Poor comprehension of justice-related vocabulary (including ‘Appropriate Adult’, ‘solicitor’ and ‘stalking’), literal comprehension, poor general receptive vocabulary (tested using One Word Picture Vocabulary Test).
However, Ben has specific strengths in specialist topics including trains and train components/mechanics.
Slow and tangential (assessed using Cookie Theft Picture Test).
Difficulty interpreting facial expression, weak central coherence (meaning he finds it hard to understand the bigger picture), restricted Theory of Mind (i.e. his ability to adopt others’ perspective) (assessed using Cookie Theft Picture Test).
Autism Spectrum Quotient-10 = 10/10 for features of Autism
Ben is aware of his SLCN.
Struggling to retain verbal information
Difficulty understanding and interpreting what people say and mean
Difficulty understanding humour and implied meaning.
Finding it challenging to engage and interact with peers. Not being able to 'read' them or work out their intentions. Finding it 'awkward' in social situations and not knowing how to behave.
Finding it difficult to answer open-ended questions and to think of the right words to express his thoughts.
Despite this - he did not disclose SLCN or any additional needs to the booking-in custody sergeant.
What did the SLT do next?
A Speech and Language Therapy report was written inclusive of recommendations for special measures and communication facilitation strategies. This was shared with the Interviewing Police Officer, Solicitor, and magistrates.
Ben asked for a copy to be shared with his parents (who he said were ashamed of him and had asked him to leave home).
The SLT referred Ben to the Autism diagnostic service – Ben diagnosed ahead of court hearing.
The SLT also referred Ben to ASPENS - supported Ben to join social groups.
What happened to Ben next?
Evidence of SLCN was successfully communicated to relevant authorities/services. For example:
SaLT report highlighted previously unidentified SLCN
Additional SaLT/SLCN training session rolled-out to custody sergeants who had not accessed induction training
Feedback from team court practitioner that the Magistrates used the SLCN communication facilitation strategies in the SLT’s report to best effect, resulting in a fair trial and effective engagement with counsel.
The magistrates commended the SaLT report and reduced Ben's sentence on the basis of this.
Ben engaged with ASPENS, who supported him to begin socialising safely and effectively in groups of peers with similar interests and needs, and supported him to find new work.
Autism diagnosis was confirmed, which Ben said he found helpful in understanding himself better.
Parents became more involved after understanding his needs and how these had contributed to the alleged offending behaviour.
(Illustrations are for illustrative purposes only - they are not a reflection of the real identities of people mentioned in the story)
🤩 Thank you to Caterina Bruce who kindly shared this story of Ben with us to showcase how SaLT can be effective in supporting offenders to receive a fair trial within the criminal justice system.
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