If you or a relative suffer with autism or sensory overload, you’ll no doubt be aware of the challenges surrounding a visit to the shops and businesses on a ‘normal’ trading day.
The sights, sounds and smells can all overload the senses, leaving the experience very difficult for all concerned.
Every year, the National Autistic Society run Autism Hour, which this year runs from Saturday 5 to Saturday 12 October. It’s an opportunity for shops and businesses to open their doors to the autistic community, adopting changes necessary to make the visit more enjoyable or simply bearable.
George Stanbury, Campaigns Officer at the National Autistic Society – who is autistic himself, says “Our Autism Hour campaign week is a moment for businesses to reflect and learn, and in that sense it’s so much more than just 60 minutes.”
“It’s about understanding that supporting autistic people isn’t hard, and that this is something every shop needs to be doing.”
Autism Hour started in 2017, and since then, more and more businesses have come on board throughout Leicestershire, with a staggering 145 shops and businesses taking place in Leicestershire during next week from October 5-12.
Shops may start small, offering one hour during the week, but this is great as it means that staff get to learn about autism, and it gives the business an opportunity to find how best they can support autistic people in the future.
Other businesses, that have been supporting the scheme since it started, are offering year-round sessions and other autism-friendly initiatives.
The National Autistic Society have developed an interactive map for you to check where the shops and businesses involved in the scheme are.
Autism: What is sensory overload?
People on the autism spectrum can struggle to process sensory information. Any one or all of the senses may be affected. This can affect the person’s behaviour and can have a major effect on the person’s life and indeed their families.
If an autistic person has a meltdown due to too much sensory information overloading them, this can cause them stress, anxiety and physical pain. This can lead to the person withdrawing from the situation, or a meltdown.
There are things you can do to help if someone is having a meltdown, as explained by the National Autistic Society.
Some of the services that will be offered over the course of the week could include – reducing background noise/tannoy announcements, educating staff about autism, educating the public about autism, giving clear information about where things are in store, dimming the lights, having a quiet space to go, turning off tills/scanner noises, reducing harsh smells and being able to skip queues.
We’ve had a look through the 145 businesses in Leicestershire offering Autism Hour sessions – here’s our pick of the best:
Recognising the importance of Autism Hour, this year The Entertainer is sponsoring the event.
Since the retailer’s initial involvement with Autism Hour, they have implemented their own weekly quiet hour as part of their commitment to creating a society which works for autistic people.
The Entertainer, based in the Haymarket in Leicester will be hosting Autism Hour every day from October 5-12 between the hours of 9-10am
Highcross Shopping Centre have been supporting Autism Hour since it’s inception.
This year, Highcross have arranged disability awareness training for staff members through Mencap and will host an educational pop-up stall by Rethink Mental Illness on 10th October.
Quiet hour sessions will be held at the centre every day at the following dates and times – Saturday 5th October – 09:00-10:00, Sunday 6th October – 11:00-12:00, Monday 7th October to Friday 11th October 09:30-10:30 and Saturday 12th October –09:00-10:00.
This year, Market Harborough have 13 businesses taking part including Halifax and Lloyds Banks. Shops involved include Clarks, Fatface, The Market, Shoezone, the Growing Tree, Randalls Sweets, Sainsburys, and the Co-op.
If you’re looking to eat out, Nature’s Pantry, Gallones and Aldwinckles Coffee House are all involved.
Having trialled Autism Hour in 2017, all larger Tesco stores will now be dimming the lights and reducing noise to create a calmer atmosphere on October 5 and 12, between 9 and 10am.
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