The Witness-Aimed First Account (WAFA): A new technique for interviewing autistic witnesses and victims

Katie Maras, Coral Dando, Heather Stephenson, Anna Lambrechts, Sophie Anns, Sebastian Gaigg

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12 Citations (SciVal)
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Abstract

Autistic people experience social communication difficulties alongside specific memory difficulties than impact their ability to recall episodic events. Police interviewing techniques do not take account of these differences, and so are often ineffective. Here we introduce a novel Witness-Aimed First Account interview technique, designed to better support autistic witnesses by diminishing socio-cognitive and executive demands through encouraging participants to generate and direct their own discrete, parameter-bound event topics, before freely recalling information within each parameter-bound topic. Since witnessed events are rarely cohesive stories with a logical chain of events, we also explored witnesses’ recall when the narrative structure of the to-be-remembered event was lost. Thirty-three autistic and 30 typically developing participants were interviewed about their memory for two videos depicting criminal events. Clip segments of one video were ‘scrambled’, disrupting the event’s narrative structure; the other video was watched intact. Although both autistic and typically developing witnesses recalled fewer details with less accuracy from the scrambled video, Witness-Aimed First Account interviews resulted in more detailed and accurate recall from autistic and typically developing witnesses, for both scrambled and unscrambled videos. The Witness-Aimed First Account technique may be a useful tool to improve autistic and typically developing witnesses’ accounts within a legally appropriate, non-leading framework. Lay abstract: Autistic people may be more likely to be interviewed by police as a victim/witness, yet they experience social communication difficulties alongside specific memory difficulties that can impact their ability to recall information from memory. Police interviewing techniques do not take account of these differences, and so are often ineffective. We developed a new technique for interviewing autistic witnesses, referred to a Witness-Aimed First Account, which was designed to better support differences in the way that autistic witnesses process information in memory. The Witness-Aimed First Account technique encourages witnesses to first segment the witnessed event into discrete, parameter-bound event topics, which are then displayed on post-it notes while the witness goes onto freely recall as much information as they can from within each parameter-bound topic in turn. Since witnessed events are rarely cohesive stories with a logical chain of events, we also explored autistic and non-autistic witnesses’ recall when the events were witnessed in a random (nonsensical) order. Thirty-three autistic and 30 typically developing participants were interviewed about their memory for two videos depicting criminal events. Clip segments of one video were ‘scrambled’, disrupting the event’s narrative structure; the other video was watched intact. Although both autistic and non-autistic witnesses recalled fewer details with less accuracy from the scrambled video, Witness-Aimed First Account interviews resulted in more detailed and accurate recall from both autistic and non-autistic witnesses, for both scrambled and unscrambled videos. The Witness-Aimed First Account technique may be a useful tool to improve witnesses’ accounts within a legally appropriate, non-leading framework.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1449-1467
Number of pages19
JournalAutism
Volume24
Issue number6
Early online date1 Mar 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this article: This work was funded by a BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grant to Dr Katie Maras and Dr Sebastian Gaigg (SG142540) and completed under a Future Research Leaders award from the Economic and Social Research Council to Dr Katie Maras (grant number: ES/N001095/1).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.

Keywords

  • Criminal Justice System
  • autism
  • event segmentation
  • interviewing
  • memory
  • narratives
  • police
  • support
  • victim
  • witness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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