Danielle Tomkins

Danielle Tomkins


My passion to support individuals with autism originated from my younger brother, who was diagnosed at 13 months old. Watching my parents struggle for support, I knew I always wanted a career in a ‘caring role’ supporting individuals and families touched by autism. This led me to complete my college qualification in childcare and pushed me to embark upon my BA Hons in Learning Disability Studies at the University of Manchester. Eager to learn more, I continued my education at the University of Manchester and gained my MA in Critical Disability Studies in 2014. Whilst obtaining my MA I began employment supporting autistic young adults in a mainstream high school. Establishing my own autistic unit within the school, I noticed many students who were in need of additional support, however did not have an official diagnosis of autism. Such individuals frequently struggled with their behavior, causing them to often come into contact with the CJS.

What motivated me to undertake PhD study?

Working directly with young adults diagnosed with autism, as well as many who are undiagnosed, I have witnessed behaviours which have been described as ‘challenging’. Such behaviours have resulted in encounters with the law, and often not having their individual needs met in the process. I see how the education system adapts to seek an inclusive society; however, have witnessed that often the CJS can struggle to mirror such an approach, especially for young adults with autism. With this in mind, I want to utilize my knowledge and skills to support equality and fairness for individuals with autism across all aspects of their life.

What makes me passionate about my subject?

Since my brother was diagnosed with autism, I have always been extremely passionate about supporting such individual to access mainstream society and receive equal opportunities. I am incredibly passionate about guaranteeing the most effective and appropriate support is provided for all individuals with autism in all aspects of life. During my career I have discovered that ‘vulnerable’ individuals with autism have considerably more support in education than their peers, and the wider community. Yet this is severely lacking throughout the CJS and so has ignited a passion in me to do all I can to help, support, educate and protect these individuals, when they are unable to do this themselves.

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

Upon completing my PhD, I wish to continue to support individuals with autism but within the prison setting. I hope that working alongside the National Autistic Society on evaluating their Autism Accreditation Programme will create opportunities to help further support offenders with autism.


Research interests

Currently, over 82,000 male offenders are serving a sentence in a UK prison today (Ministry of Justice, 2017). Included within these statistics are individuals with autism, and although prevalence rates are unknown, research suggests many are travelling through the criminal justice system (CJS) unrecognized and unsupported (Robertson and McGillivray, 2015). Furthermore, research suggests that individuals with autism are often unable to satisfy parole boards due to the inability to successfully access mainstream prison life, such as educational programs or jobs (Allen et al, 2008). To help tackle the issue, the National Autistic Society has developed its Autism Accreditation program to include prisons wishing to improve their services for autistic offenders.

My study will examine the effects of the changes to prisons applying for Autism Accreditation, through the voices of offenders with autism, with specific reference to support, adjustments and positive relationships. Case studies will be produced in an attempt to gain a well-rounded view of the impact and effect of any changes made for the individual involved. To gain a greater in-depth analysis of the autistic offender involved, individuals who work closely with the offender as well as close family contacts will be invited to participate. Qualitative data methods will be used in for form of semi-structured interviews with all participates.