I was just watching a snippet from a British TV show called This Morning about a former police man who can tell if a person is lying just by looking at them. He is what I would call an ‘extreme case’ as he has had much more training than most police would ever have, although all police are taught to recognise the signs that a person is lying to them. This is very useful for police as they can often catch genuine criminals out using this training.
But there’s a problem…
I was reading through the list that the web page supplies of ‘common signs of a liar’
One thing that struck me is that a lot of the ‘signs’ could just be normal behaviour in an autistic person (or in my case could be a tic). Clutching things to the chest, for example can be a physical comfort to an autistic person rather than a sign we are hiding something from you. It (thankfully) says that the whole lack of eye contact thing is a myth, but that staring is a sign of a liar. Although this isn’t the case for me, I have come across individuals with autism who hold intense eye contact to the point of a regular person feeling uncomfortable! Unfortunately though, it is still believed by many that lack of eye contact=guilt. In my case it = sensory overload avoidance!
It goes on to suggest that liars may mirror your language or stutter for an answer. In an anxious situation (especially being interviewed by the police!) I am extremely likely to develop echolalia (repeating what someone else has said), plus echoing questions is one of my ways of processing what I am being told. As for stuttering for an answer, again if I am anxious, even if you asked me ‘what is 2+2?’ I would stutter and panic before telling you ‘4’. It then claims that readers have figured out that their own partners or children are lying using similar technique. If my Mum had taken every twitch, rock, stammer or movement as a sign I was lying, I was lying an awful lot!
It then gives verbal clues:
Slowing down breathing
Becoming less animated
Over compensating with eye contact
Blink rate may double and triple
Again, in an anxiety fuelled situation, I am likely to show at least 3 of these ‘signs’. My breathing will certainly change as it always does when I am speaking to a stranger under pressure. I may become less animated as I put myself into a protective ‘shut down’. As for the blink rate… I have Tourettes… Blinking loads is my niche! Which brings me to the final sign: Liars often twitch. Good luck figuring out when I’m lying from that!
The reason I am writing about this is not to dispute the claims made by the former police man, but to warn him and other professionals that not everyone who they come across will be guilty of lying from these signs. Not everyone with autism is diagnosed (a sad but true fact) so the chances are, pretty much every police officer, sergeant etc. is going to come across a person with autism in their career. They may not realise the suspect/victim has autism and the suspect/victim may also be unaware of this! Thankfully more police forces across the country are taking on training for as many of their force as possible. I think it is important for police to learn about autism because having seen this (and far too many episodes of Jeremy Kyle…) I can see how easily one can mistake an autistic person for a liar if involved in a crime either as victim or suspect.
I will write again about the subject of autism and police in the future as I am currently quite unwell with a flare up!