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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (SciVal)
129 Downloads (Pure)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1449-1467
Issue number6
Early online date1 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020


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