Intermediary Journeys: Georgina’s Story

The saying, “Start them young”, has taken on a whole new meaning to me.

Hi, I’m Georgie and my younger brother has autism and I have been his ‘intermediary’ since I was five years old.

Autism is a type of developmental disorder that affects how a person communicates and interacts with the world. For my little brother, this world that so many others felt was normal, felt like living in a simulation. He didn’t start speaking until he was over four years old and, still to this day, struggles to understand the concept of sarcasm; this made basic day-to-day interactions very difficult.

My mother has always told me that I continually found a way to ‘understand’ my brother despite his difficulties, and I like to feel like I made even a small difference to his communication in early life. Her favourite story is from when my brother was three years old and could not verbalise what he wanted to eat. She told me how I drew out a picture of both items of food (a cheese string or a Babybel, probably!) and asked him to point to what he wanted. I now use visual aids as a strategy in my work as a court appointed intermediary.

Time at university

Studying psychology was a no-brainer to me. From a young age, I have always loved looking at the different ways our brains work and how autism affects the way my brother interacts with the world. For example, making small talk with a stranger on the bus, my brother would divert to his internal, learnt script. He would find it hugely distressing if anyone diverted from the script to answer the question, “How are you?”, with, “Not very good”.

I took modules in neuroscience, psychopathology and anything that would remotely relate to autism and how I can help my brother at home. However, it seemed that the research on autism is overshadowed by its negative connotations in relation to emotion, empathy, intelligence and crime etc. This made me extremely angry, as these things did not reflect the person I knew.

Did you know that the media produces disproportionately high-profile coverage for rare criminal offences involving autism? For example, a 2021 headline read, “Autistic boy killed baby brother”. It is articles like this which contribute to the erroneous belief that there is a link between autism and offending.

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Learning about the misconceptions that the public had about autism led me to writing a university paper for my eyewitness psychology module entitled ‘Autism and Police Interviewing’.The paper explored the different language and social communication difficulties which autistic people can experience, which can make it challenging to obtain relevant information from them in a standard police interview?

I found that the more I looked into autism, the angrier it made me that autistic people were being unfairly criminalised and punished for their atypical understanding in police interviews and in court.

However, it was not until my third year at university when I took a “Crime and the Criminal Justice System” module that I learnt about intermediaries. It became clear to me at this point, that an intermediary (whatever that meant to me at the time) was someone that my brother would need if he ever found himself in that situation. However, at this point, the research on intermediaries was only in relation to child witnesses and said nothing about adults, defendants or respondents. Although my brother is not a child, I knew that his autistic characteristics and atypical understanding would mean he would struggle in cross-examination, and I knew he would not understand how the court system works.

After university

It was only after I graduated from university that I learnt about intermediaries in relation to defendants and respondents. I had been working in a rather boring accounts job for nearly two years and felt unfulfilled. I did not feel like I was making a difference or in a field of work I wanted to be in.

One of my close friends from university started working for Communicourt a short time after we graduated, and I learnt about all the wonderful things she was doing to make a difference to many vulnerable people in the legal system. I found myself lying awake at night thinking about that young woman at university, wanting to help people like my little brother. It was then that I decided to take a leap of faith – and the rest is history.

Now I work with people with communications difficulties just like my brother every day, using many of the skills I developed in childhood, at work. I am proud of the difference that I am making to our service users’ lives, and that I get to be a part of what is one of the most stressful and demanding moments in their lives. I am proud of the work that Communicourt do every day, and above all, I am proud of what my brother has been teaching me all my life.

Further reading

Brewer, N., Zoanetti, J., & Young, R. L. (2017). The influence of media suggestions about links between criminality and autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 21(1), 117–121.

Slavny-Cross, R., Allison, C., Griffiths, S., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2022). Autism and the criminal justice system: An analysis of 93 cases. Autism Research, 15( 5), 904– 914.