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This is the Police National Dyslexia Association's logo, which has the crest logo of the association alongside the name.

The Team

The Police National Dyslexia Association was founded by a core group of serving officers and police staff who are passionate about supporting others.

Maria Canning

Police National Dyslexia Association Chair

Domestic Abuse Sergeant, Devon and Cornwall Police

My Name is Maria Canning, and I am a Police Sergeant in Devon and Cornwall Police. I have been in the Police for 13 years, working in two different Police forces. I have worked in a variety of roles, and I am currently a Sergeant working in domestic abuse.

Alongside that, I am the vice chair for our Neurodiversity Support Network and I am the lead force point of contact for Dyslexia.

I was diagnosed when I was 8 years old, although this was picked up really early, ‘dyslexia’ wasn’t widely known. In school I was given a small amount of support, but I was mainly left to fend for myself.

I bumbled my way through school as best I could, then went to college but, at the age of 17, realised it wasn’t for me, so I went into the hospitality world and found my niche as a leader. I worked as a chief, bar supervisor, and a manager of a café before completing 2 years of college in Dagenham studying car mechanics, becoming fully qualified in 2009 and working in this area before joining the Police.

I noticed, up until this point, that academic work was a struggle and I found myself completing more physical and practical types of jobs. 

Joining the Police was an eye-opener and really tested me. I had to find a range of strategies to cope with being ‘slower’ than other officers, with not retaining information as easily and with the dynamics of policing; listening to the radio, preparing for the job I’m abou to deal with, and a scene unfolding in front of me.

I also had to learn how to cope with files and statements, and the seemingly endless struggle of paperwork. In my early years, I was challenged several times due to written work, and it left me feeling embarrassed and inferior compared to others.

It was when I was 27 that I finally felt able to stand up and proudly say, ‘I am Dyslexic.’ This turned my struggles into my biggest strength, as I am now able to be open. I have helped others be open about their conditions and to feel strong enough to do so.

It’s okay to feel, or think, a little different. Own it, and make the best out of it – you are not alone.

Having a neurodiverse condition can make some practices and roles more difficult than others, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still try – or succeed!

Be honest with yourself around your skills and limitations. Don’t let neurodiversity hold you back.

One of the most important things about being a supervisor to someone with a neurodiverse condition is to show that you understand and that you are approachable, don’t single them out, don’t make them feel small or embarrassed.

Be aware that someone who is struggling may not want to speak up, make sure they know where to turn. Always try to remember that you cannot see neurodiversity, it doesn’t come with a speech bubble so you can’t always see how something is affecting someone.

While in Essex Police I started to support officers who had dyslexia, offering advice as well as creating a resource that made available a range of information an officer might need. This included practical tools they could use in their work such as a copy of the five-part statement template which was laminated, allowing the officer to casually look at it and refresh their memory without showing the victim or witness.

Once I joined Devon & Cornwall, I worked hard to share my knowledge and joined the Neurodiversity Support Network. After about 6 months I was named the lead dyslexia point of contact and I am now the Vice Chair.

I also provide peer support and have helped several officers and staff across the force.

I have really enjoyed helping others, giving them a safe space to unload and open up about their struggles and to know that they are talking to someone who has felt the same way and had the same experiences.

In November 2021 I met with two of the founders and started talks around setting up a national association, in 2022 the other two founders came on board and PNDA was born.

The project has been long and takes time around our day jobs and lives however now we are here and you are reading this, I know that all of our hard work has paid off. We wanted to provide a support network for officers and staff with dyslexia right across the UK and a support network that encompasses all ranks from PC (or SC) right up to executive level and inclusive of police staff roles. This as to help show every member that your Neurodiversity is a part of you but it doesn’t stop you.

Chris Walton-Tate

PC, Devon and Cornwall Police

I joined the police in 2012, covering Sunderland and then Newcastle Upon Tyne in Northumbria Police, before transferring to D&C in 2019 and being promoted. Unfortunately, I resigned in 2023 due to mental health reasons (PTSD, depression, and anxiety), but re-joined in 2024 after a year of therapy and healing. I did not re-join in rank due to resigning part-way through the NPPF step 4, but I hope that I will be supported in regaining my rank in time.

Prior to Policing, I was a graphic designer and wedding photographer (I still do weddings!). I studied Design to Master of Arts level at Northumbria University, receiving a Distinction for my work. This is where my involvement in the PNDA stems from, as my thesis was titled ‘Neurodiversity and User Experience and User Interfaces’ and focused on research into Dyslexia and their interaction with day to day systems such as Windows, iOS, Android, Mac OS, and print media, leading to researched recommendations on how we can adapt these to better suit those with dyslexia.

I do not have dyslexia myself, but my research of dyslexia through my Master of Arts Design degree, coupled with my experience as Tutor Constable, Specials Mentor, Student Mentor, and Sergeant, has meant that I feel passionate about helping others to succeed. I am passionate about creating an inclusive and supportive policing world where people feel empowered and capable to truly succeed.

Whilst not having dyslexia myself, I have worked alongside those that do, and I have supervised neurodivergent colleages. I have worked hard to ensure that everyone feels included and able to succeed, offering my support as and when required but, ultimately, working to empower everyone around me to be their very best and feel included into the Policing world. I have, over time, realised gaps and failings in the support offered and have resolved to challenge those of higher ranks and organisations to do better for all colleagues.

Be proud of who you are. My experiences battling PTSD, depression, and anxiety have often led me to silence myself so that I don’t ‘burden others’ with my ‘problems.’ This only served to internalise them and lead me to become ‘cut off’ from those around me. Since realising this, I have become an open book about my issues and I implore anyone who has any condition to be open about it as, only through awareness and discussion, can we bring everyone else on board to create a better environment for all.

Simply, be there. It is not your role to ‘cure’ them or ‘solve’ anything, but to be there for them. Empower everyone you supervise to be their best by getting to know them beyond just being your staff – know how they work, what makes them work, what motivates them, what really helps them to get up and go.

The job of a line manager isn’t to dictate or say ‘how it is,’ it is to support.

Chris Blair

Supervisor, Thames Valley Police

I have been with Thames Valley Police for over twenty years, having worked in a number of departments including response, Prisoner Handling and CID.  I currently work as a Supervisor for an Assessment and Investigation Unit.

 

I have always had an interest in helping and developing others – I have a degree in Human Psychology and a few years ago was offered the opportunity to train as a Workplace Needs Assessor.  In addition to my standard job role I assess and advise Officers and staff with various neurodiversity needs, helping to identify areas where reasonable adjustments can be put in place to help their day to day working.

 

I have been advised recently that I probably have ADHD.  Although it would explain a number of things about my personality and work style I have not felt the need to have it formally diagnosed: I am who I am and a few amendments to my working practice means that the impacts of any neurodiversity are reduced. 

 

The PnDA (which I affectionately call PANDA) has grown from an innocent question I asked Maria in an online conference in November 2021.  I am lucky to work for a Force that has a very good assessment system and support network in place, something that too many others are lacking.  The PnDA promises to provide some support to the Police family nationwide and I am very proud of it.

My direct experiences of Dyslexia are limited.  I went to a school with a dedicated Dyslexic Unit – quite ahead of its time – so have always been aware of it.  I studied Dyslexia as part of my degree and one of my children has Dyslexia, but it was not until I became a Workplace Needs Assessor that I developed a better understanding of the condition. 

Many people have a neurodiverse condition, more than you realise, but no one else has exactly the same condition as you.  You are unique but that does not mean you are alone and that things can still be put in place to help you.

Look at all you have achieved thus far in spite of any limitations of your condition.  Also look at all the ways you have developed other methods of achieving these things.  You may find some things difficult but there are other things that you have learned to do better than other people.  This makes neurodiversity your superpower, so own it.

Understand your limitations, but also understand there are people and resources who will help you develop your superpowers even further.

Every person’s experience and neurodiverse condition is different and the only one who can truly understand their neurodiversity is that person.  The best thing you can do is make yourself available and listen to what your staff member is saying – they will be able to tell you how best you can help.  Enable and allow them to open up to you at their own pace.

There are many resources available so make use of what there you can find to get a better idea of the condition.  It is thought that 15% of the population is neurodivergent, this figure is significantly higher within the Police, so it will affect more of your colleagues than you realise – most of which you won’t know about.