University of Sussex
ANNS_Autism_JAN_2020_author_copy.pdf (1.04 MB)

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

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posted on 2023-06-09, 20:33 authored by Katie Maras, Coral Dando, Heather Stephenson, Anna Lambrechts, Sophie Anns, Sebastian Gaigg
Autistic people experience social communication difficulties alongside specific memory difficulties that can 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 (WAFA) 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 (TD) 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 TD witnesses recalled fewer details with less accuracy from the scrambled video, WAFA interviews resulted in more detailed and accurate recall from autistic and TD witnesses, for both scrambled and unscrambled videos. The WAFA technique may be a useful tool to improve autistic and TD witnesses’ accounts within a legally appropriate, non-leading framework.


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