Post Covid, LAT have seen prison visitor numbers starting to increase back up nearer to pre-pandemic levels. All families deserve to spend quality time with their loved ones and earlier this year we started to notice that families with neurodivergent relatives were struggling to get the most out of visits owing to the nature of the environment, so we began to research how we could help as inclusivity had to become a priority.
Living with a hidden disability can make life very difficult, especially in an intimidating environment such as a prison; however, there are small things that can be done that can make a big difference. For those with autism, loud noises can be very distracting and upsetting so many opt to use ear defenders for those types of situations. We began to purchase multiple sets for prisons where we provide family support services and the response was extremely positive from both the families and the lead Governors in which the portfolio of ‘Children and Families’ sit. This started to positively reflect on the visits and was widely appreciated by those who needed them, but there was still more to do.
After some research, we decided to look into sunflower lanyards to make it clear that someone has a hidden disability. In turn, this could lead to changes in the search process when entering the prison. The search process, as expected, is very thorough and can feel intrusive even for those without sensory issues, so for those with hidden disabilities such as sensory issues / Autism it can be very invasive and potentially distressing, especially for children. The sunflower lanyards help prison staff to identify neurodivergent visitors and adapt the search process where possible, which is one of a number of measures we have now put in place.
Lastly, we invested in a range of sensory toys for visits. Items such as fidget toys are designed to stimulate the five senses and may include elements such as bright and contrasting colours, sounds, or different textures. All prison staff have been briefed on the equipment available and it is handed out to individuals as and when it is needed.
We are very proud of the work that not only our team at Lincolnshire Action Trust but prison staff have put in to improve conditions for neurodivergent individuals during their prison visits. This effort has been acknowledged with a nomination for The Butler Trust Award which is a great achievement and a credit to those involved. This nomination is specifically in appreciation of the positive impact these measures have had on three autistic children who visit their father in one of the prisons we work in. . This means a lot to us and will inspire us to continue supporting not only neurodivergent individuals but also their loved ones during their journey through the prison system.