Understanding the complex intersection of Disability and Anti-Social Behaviour

Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) poses multifaceted challenges for communities and individuals, and exploring its intersection with disability is crucial for ASB professionals when ensuring effective management and support. In this article, we will delve into the complex world of disability and ASB, how disability influences ASB including instances of misidentification, and the impact of the legal framework provided by the Equality Act. Managing this intricacies of disability and ASB has been high on the agenda for ASB professionals for a number of years. For example: How do you balance the needs of a neighbour genuinely experiencing noise nuisance, but the source of that noise is a consequence of someone’s disability? The equality act states you cannot discriminate against disability e.g. by taking action against the disabled person, unless it is a ‘proportionate means to a legitimate aim’. This involves a weighing up of different parties needs and circumstances etc. In this article we will also explore the unique impact of ASB on disabled individuals, with the aim of providing a comprehensive insight into the understanding the complex intersection of disability and anti-social behaviour, providing some practical tips for ASB professionals on how to tackle some common issues which occur.

Disability and ASB – An Introduction

Despite the topic of Disability and ASB being prevalent for a long time, in recent years there has been a notable increase in the recognition of disability as a crucial consideration in the management of anti-social behaviour (ASB). With an estimated 26% of the UK’s population living with some form of disability, the growth in people affected by disability has had a concurring increase in the number of cases which have disability as a consideration. Coupled with society’s awareness of disability, and the growth of advocacy when it comes to disabled rights has resulted in more individuals with disabilities (and those representing them) feel empowered to assert their rights and participate fully in society. This shift has prompted a need for ASB professionals to adopt even more of an inclusive and nuanced approach, considering the unique needs and circumstances of disabled individuals in their strategies for prevention, intervention, and support. What can make the role of ASB professionals jobs challenging is navigating the ever increasing complexity of the world of disability and its impact on communities, from an offender perspective and how that affects case management, and also from a victim perspective.

The Impact of ASB on Disabled People

The more common discussion when looking at disability and ASB is the impact of ASB on disabled individuals. The effects can be profound, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and creating additional barriers to social inclusion. Disabled individuals may be disproportionately affected by harassment, intimidation, and victimisation due to factors such as increased susceptibility and communication barriers. There are multiple cases where this is highlighted, a recent example being a case where a Middlesborough man felt trapped in his home due to ASB and unsuitable living conditions.

When housing associations fail to take into account vulnerabilities and disability into their policy, it can be costly. A case last year documented by Inside Housing highlighted how a housing association faced significant fines for its decline in services, with failing to adequately address vulnerabilities a key component of this. 

To address the impact of ASB on disabled individuals, ASB professionals should adopt a comprehensive and inclusive approach that considers their specific needs and circumstances. This may involve providing tailored support services, facilitating collaboration with disability support organisations, and promoting community education and awareness initiatives to reduce stigma and promote social inclusion. This starts with having adequate policy which can be communicated and embedded into the overall organisation. ASB policy is a specialist area that the team here at Green and Burton ASB Associates can support your organisation with, with a tailored approach that meets the needs of your administration and future plans. Take a look at our ASB policy services or get in touch for a bespoke consultation.

Practical Tips For ASB Professionals To Support Disabled Victims of ASB

1. Understand Accessibility Needs: Familiarise yourself with the accessibility needs of different disabilities, including mobility, sensory, intellectual, and mental health impairments. This can help you to make practical and reasonable adjustments where appropriate to both hear complaints and take action on them.

2. Provide Tailored Communication Options: Offering various ways to communicate, such as text messages, emails, voice calls, or in-person meetings with accommodations like sign language interpreters or quiet spaces will make a significant impact on customer satisfaction, particularly with those who are managing mental health conditions or intellectual disabilities. 

3. Implement Personalised Support Plans: Work closely with disabled victims to create support plans that address their specific fears, needs, and preferences. This might include adjusting the frequency of check-ins or the type of support provided. 

4. Continuous Learning & Development: Continuously investing in disability awareness and the best practices for interacting with and supporting disabled individuals will allow for effective case management and an empathetic approach. This includes understanding legal protections for disabled people under laws including the Equality Act 2010.

5. Coordinate with Disability Services: Build relationships with local disability advocacy groups and services. These organisations can provide specialised support and advice for disabled victims – which can be great for signposting and referrals when reports of ASB are perhaps misunderstood as being additional needs for the complainant. Using a Multi-agency Approach that works collaboratively with other agencies, such as social services and healthcare providers will ensure that support is comprehensive and cohesive.

Disability: Misidentification and Misunderstanding

With the rise of disability-related conditions which affect behaviour, there are an increasing number of instances where conduct can often be misunderstood and misinterpreted as anti-social, leading to significant challenges for both individuals and communities. There are a number of different disabilities that affect behaviour, including Tourette syndrome, intellectual disabilities such as autism or ADHD, conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers which can cause symptoms which can be misidentified as anti-social behaviour. Working with local partners to support communities with knowledge and understanding, as well as working with families to create a living environment which best meets the needs of the individual should be a key strategy for all stakeholders when it comes to effectively managing the misidentification and misunderstanding of disability and ASB.

Disabilities which may be misidentified as ASB

  • Tourette Syndrome: Tourette syndrome is a neurological condition characterised by involuntary vocal or motor tics. Individuals with Tourette’s may experience sudden, repetitive movements or vocalisations that are beyond their control. These tics can range from mild to severe and can vary in frequency and intensity over time. For example, a person with Tourette’s may exhibit motor tics such as blinking, head jerking, or shoulder shrugging, or vocal tics such as grunting, coughing, or uttering involuntary sounds or words. These tics, which are symptomatic of Tourette’s, may be mistaken for intentional acts of disruption or aggression by those who are unaware of the individual’s condition. In this recent case in Australia, a case of Tourette syndrome was mistaken for drug taking – highlighting the need for improved awareness in first line responders and in the community. 
  • Intellectual Disabilities (e.g., Autism, ADHD): Individuals with intellectual disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may exhibit behaviours that are misunderstood as anti-social due to difficulties with social interaction, communication, and sensory processing. For instance, a person with autism may engage in repetitive behaviours or have difficulty understanding social cues, leading to misunderstandings and potential conflict. Similarly, individuals with ADHD may struggle with impulse control or hyperactivity, which could be misinterpreted as disruptive or disrespectful behaviour. The case reported by Inside Housing on the autistic resident who lived in a supported facility where the housing association sought eviction over alleged ASB demonstrates the complexity faced by ASB professionals in identifying what is ASB and what is disability. 
  • Dementia or Alzheimer’s: Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can affect cognitive function and behaviour, leading to changes in personality, memory loss, and confusion. Individuals affected by these conditions may exhibit behaviours that are misconstrued as anti-social, such as wandering, agitation, or verbal outbursts. For example, a person with dementia may become disoriented or agitated in unfamiliar environments, leading to behaviours that are misunderstood by others. Similarly, individuals with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in mood or personality that result in unpredictable or socially inappropriate actions. This article in the Mirror describes the link between the onset of dementia and what can be construed as anti-social behaviour. This can make the role of ASB professionals challenging and a difficult situation to handle with the right level of sensitivity. Each year in May the Alzheimers Society host an awareness week to highlight the issues of dementia and the impact on society. In 2024 they are focussing on calling to government to prioritise dementia in policy and decision making; something which would be interesting to understand in the context of ASB and community safety policy.
  • Mental Health Conditions: Misidentification or misunderstanding of mental health conditions can significantly contribute to the misinterpretation of anti-social behaviour – as recognised by this article in Science Direct. Conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia can manifest in a variety of behavioural symptoms that may be misinterpreted as intentional acts of disruption or aggression. For instance, individuals experiencing a panic attack may exhibit rapid breathing, trembling, or agitation, which could be misconstrued as threatening or erratic behaviour. Similarly, someone experiencing a depressive episode may withdraw from social interactions or appear disengaged, leading others to perceive them as aloof or uncaring. Without proper awareness and understanding of these conditions, individuals may be unfairly labelled as anti-social or disruptive, exacerbating stigma and hindering access to support and treatment. This May hosts Mental Health Awareness Week, which in 2024 is focussed on #nomindleftbehind – encouraging mental health funding and support for all. With more funding and support for people suffering from mental health conditions this could have a positive impact for ASB officers – who will be able to signpost to get adequate support for those needing it.
  • Cancer Related Behavioural Changes: Certain types of cancer and their treatments can also impact behaviour and cognition, leading to behavioural changes that may be misinterpreted as anti-social. For example, individuals undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy may experience fatigue, mood swings, or cognitive impairment that affect their ability to interact with others. Moreover, certain types of brain tumours or metastases can directly affect areas of the brain responsible for regulating behaviour and emotion, leading to personality changes or impulsivity. These behavioural changes, which are a result of the underlying medical condition, may be mistaken for deliberate acts of anti-social behaviour.

By recognising the diverse ways in which different disabilities can manifest and be misinterpreted as anti-social behaviour, communities and ASB professionals can promote greater understanding and support for individuals with disabilities. Education, awareness, and empathy are essential in addressing the misidentification of disability-related behaviours and fostering inclusive communities where all individuals are valued and respected.

Practical tips on how ASB officers can manage the complexity of cases where instances of behaviour caused by disability could be misunderstood as ASB

Managing cases where behaviours caused by disabilities might be misconstrued as ASB presents unique challenges for ASB officers on a daily basis. It’s important that ASB officers make every effort to differentiate between intentional ASB and actions stemming from a person’s disability, which may not be within their control. Here are some practical tips for ASB officers in handling these complex situations:

1. Enhanced Training in Disability Awareness: Officers that receive training have enhanced understanding of various disabilities and how these might affect behaviour. This knowledge is vital in helping officers discern the nature of incidents and respond appropriately.

2. Consult Disability Experts: Building relationships with disability specialists, such as occupational therapists, psychologists, or disability organisations, can provide essential insights into specific cases. These experts can offer guidance on understanding behaviours and effective interventions.

3. Develop Tailored Communication Strategies: Effective communication that accommodates the individual’s disability is key. This may involve the use of alternative communication methods like quiet spaces, sign language, written communication, or visual aids depending on the person’s needs when looking at investigations and interventions.

4. Implement Person-Centred Approaches: Considering each case individually, taking into account the specific circumstances and needs of the person involved will ensure that interventions are tailored and appropriate, rather than applying a one-size-fits-all solution.

5. Use of Intermediaries or Mediators: In some cases, it might be beneficial to use intermediaries who can facilitate communication between the individual with a disability and the officers. These intermediaries should be trained in handling sensitive interactions and have a good understanding of the disability.

6. Adjust Intervention Strategies: Modify traditional ASB handling strategies to accommodate individuals with disabilities. Utilising all of the ASB toolkit you can look at what supportive measures can be put in place to help the individual manage their behaviour. 

7. Engage with Carers and Support Networks: Involving family members, carers, and support networks can provide additional context to the individual’s behaviour and help in crafting a supportive approach to manage situations effectively.

8. Clear Documentation and Monitoring: Maintaining clear and detailed records of all interactions, decisions, and actions taken can help with bringing cases to conclusion and when there is a need for escalation or for if there is an independent review.

9. Robust Case Reviews: Robust reviews of the strategies and interventions that have been put in place can support with bringing them to a positive outcome for all.

10. Legal and Ethical Considerations: Always be aware of the legal protections in place for individuals with disabilities, such as those outlined in the Equality Act 2010. Ensuring that all actions comply with these laws, and considering the ethical implications of decisions will prevent delays and escalations, as well as potential cases of maladministration down the line.

11. Support for ASB Officers: Handling these cases can be emotionally and professionally challenging. Providing ASB officers with access to support and resources that allows them to manage their own well-being effectively can be a game changer for the case management process because it can prevent absence and attrition caused by stress from managing complex cases.

The Equality Act: Legal Framework and Obligations

The Equality Act 2010 serves as a cornerstone of legislation aimed at protecting the rights of disabled individuals and ensuring equal access to services and opportunities. In the context of ASB, the Act imposes obligations on service providers, to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of disabled individuals. For example, housing associations are required to ensure that disabled tenants have equal access to communal areas by providing wheelchair ramps or alternative access routes. Similarly, ASB case management processes should be adapted to accommodate the communication needs of disabled individuals, such as providing information in accessible formats or arranging for support from communication aids. By upholding the legal obligations outlined in the Equality Act, ASB professionals can promote inclusivity and respect for the rights of disabled individuals, ensuring that they are not unfairly disadvantaged due to their disability.

While the Equality Act 2010 provides essential protections for disabled individuals, its provisions can sometimes make ASB professionals wary of tackling ASB. The Act mandates that reasonable adjustments must be considered to accommodate the needs of disabled individuals, which can introduce complexities and uncertainties into ASB management processes. ASB professionals may fear inadvertently discriminating against disabled individuals or facing legal challenges if adjustments are not perceived as adequate. Moreover, the requirement to balance the rights and needs of disabled individuals with the broader community’s safety and well-being can create ethical dilemmas and tensions for ASB professionals. As a result, navigating the intersection of disability rights and ASB management requires careful consideration and expertise to ensure equitable outcomes for all parties involved. The recent case of the High Court ruling that a council can exclude tenants with disabilities that contribute to anti-social behaviour demonstrates that ASB professionals are still able to exercise ASB powers with the correct understanding of the Equality Act and how it relates to ASB. Our training course on the Equality Act can provide ASB professionals with the knowledge and skills to understand the act and its implications for handling ASB cases. If this is an area that you and your team would benefit from support with then drop us an email to explore the in-house or live training opportunities available for your organisation.

Understanding the complex intersection of Disability and Anti-Social Behaviour

The connection of disability to ASB presents complex challenges that require a nuanced understanding and proactive response from ASB professionals. By recognising the unique experiences and needs of disabled individuals, understanding and upholding the legal obligations under the Equality Act, and promoting inclusivity and respect within communities, we can work towards creating safer, more supportive environments. We hope that this insight is useful, do reach out if we can be of support to your organisation.

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