Shopping can be stressful at the best of times but it can be much harder for people on the autistic spectrum. Loud noises, fluorescent lighting and crowded spaces are all factors that can easily affect an autistic person’s experience in store. In fact, 64% of people with ASD say they avoid the shops and 28% have been asked to leave a public place for reasons associated with their autism. But next week, many high street shops are doing their bit to help and make shopping an easier experience.
Throughout the second week of October, many stores will be taking simple steps to make their shops more autism friendly for 60 minutes. They’ll be turning down music and other noise, dimming fluorescent strip lighting and sharing information about autism with employees.
There are around 700,000 autistic people in the UK, as well as three million family members and carers. So the hour-long change will make a huge difference to thousands of people in London and across the rest of the country.
Being autistic means seeing, hearing and feeling the world in a different, often more intense way to other people. Autistic people often find social situations difficult and can struggle to filter out the sounds, smells, sights and information they experience, which can make busy public places, like shops, overwhelming. Imagine the stress of tackling Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon and multiply all of the negative factors and you’ll start to understand exactly what a horrible experience this could be for an autistic person.
The National Autistic Society launched Autism Hour last year as the first event to encourage shops to be more autism friendly and more than 5,000 shops and businesses took part. This year, they want the event to be even bigger and they’re encouraging more shops and businesses to get involved. So far, there are more than 10,000 shops getting involved around the UK. In London alone, there are 1460 – 766 North of the river and 684 South.
Vlogger and content creator for the National Autistic Society, Savan, says: “The National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour is important to me because it enables autistic people, like myself, to shop without worrying of receiving too much sensory overload.
“Shopping as an experience can be very stressful for me especially if I pass perfume shops, or enter shops, which can cause a sensory overload nightmare. I have coping strategies in place and manage most of the time when I am shopping as I usually have my music and noise cancelling headphones to keep me calm.”
The likes of Schuh, Superdrug, Sainsbury’s, Argos, Lloyds Bank, Co-op and The Entertainer are all taking part in Autism Hour this year. Some businesses, like The Entertainer and Morrisons, already offer a weekly Quiet Hour, and Autism Hour aims to bring awareness to the cause and hopefully make autism-friendly shopping a more common thing.
You can find out more about the initiative and where your nearest Autism Hour is by clicking here.