DYFED-Powys Police officers and staff are on track to make Milford Haven the first autism-friendly community in Wales.

For the past three months the team has been out and about in the town raising awareness of autism, and helping shops and businesses learn how they can become more supportive and welcoming of autistic people.

The town's Neighbourhood Policing Team (NPT) is leading the bid to become an autism friendly community, and so far a sergeant, seven PCSOs, two PCs and two volunteers have completed online awareness training with ASDInfoWales.

Thirty businesses have also signed up to the scheme, and are displaying autism aware window stickers, designed to promote awareness and give autistic people and their carers the confidence to call in.

Schools, organisations and health centres are also working towards gaining the certification.

Milford Haven Sergeant Terri Harrison said scheme was “about reducing hate crime, mate crime, and supporting the vulnerable”.

“We’re looking at the bigger picture of how autism awareness can improve the whole community,” she said.

“An extra five minutes spent in a shop or a business explaining what it’s about doesn’t take anything away from our role – if anything, it enhances it.

"We are getting to know parts of the community we didn’t know before.

"By making ourselves and others aware of autism and how it affects people we are protecting not just children, but vulnerable adults too.”

As well as helping to reduce crime, Sgt Harrison hopes becoming autism friendly will be beneficial for the whole of Milford Haven.

“There are so many families where there are people with autism that are looking for autism friendly destinations – somewhere they feel comfortable to bring their family for a holiday,” she said.

PC Emma Smyth patrols Milford Haven, but when she’s not in work she cares for her four-year-old autistic daughter, and knows first-hand how hard daily tasks can be.

She hopes the initiative will eventually be rolled out across the force.

“There are so many people affected by autism, whether it’s the individual themselves, their parents or carers, and the first thing people say when I ask what they know about autism is ‘my nephew has it, or my friend’s child is autistic’ – it’s something more and more people are affected by," she said.

"I think there is still a lot of work to be done, but there is more acceptance now.

"When I started in the police, autism would have been branded as a mental health issue - now there are people who think having autism is beneficial to them.”

PCSO Paul Mayhew has taken the campaign to heart, and has dedicated time during every shift to make people aware of the scheme, as well as educating himself about autism.

He said: “It has really opened my eyes to how many people are living with autism in Milford Haven.

"One parent said to me that it was like her son was invisible, and that really brought the campaign to life.

“Milford is such a community town, and it really shows in how people are taking this scheme on board."