For people with autism, entering a shopping centre can be a daunting experience. The bright lights, loud music and crowds of people can be completely overwhelming and trigger their anxiety. In the past few months, however, this experience has been recognised by some of the biggest shopping centres and chains in the country – and they’ve decided to help.
Coles weekly quiet hour
From 10.30–11.30am every Tuesday, Coles has been dimming the lights in 68 stores around the country, as well as turning the radio off and reducing the volumes of registers and scanners. The collection of trolleys also stop during this time and roll cages are removed from the shop floor. Announcements are suspended except for emergencies and extra staff are rostered on to support the customers. This rollout comes after a successful trial of the ‘quiet hour’ in August, with the help of Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect).
Northland Shopping Centre’s sensory shopping day
Northland Shopping Centre in Melbourne, also recently provided a sensory shopping day for people with autism. The lights were dimmed, music was turned off and staff were asked to greet customers non-verbally during the day. A sign at the cash registers also asked people to keep a metre-wide distance to give more space to customers. A sensitive Santa, who was trained specifically to interact with children on the autism spectrum, was available for kids. And parents were able to avoid the stressful queues by booking in a 10-minute time slot.
The day’s success was helped by the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre and Amaze, which came to conduct an environmental audit through the eyes of a person with autism.
UK centres get on board
It’s not just Australia that has been making these changes – in the UK, the ‘quiet hour’ is growing rapidly in popularity. Intu, which owns 14 shopping centres around the country, dimmed its lights and turned down its music for one hour on 2 October. This move came after the shopping chain partnered with the National Autistic Society on #AutismHour as part of their Too Much Information awareness campaign. The organisation welcomed the initiative and said, “for autistic people, the world can seem full of too much information - and too little understanding.”
"That's why we launched the Too Much Information campaign to challenge the myths, misconceptions and stereotypes that contribute to 79 per cent of autistic people feeling socially isolated and 64 per cent of autistic people avoiding going to the shops.
"We're asking shops and businesses to organise a National Autistic Society Autism Hour and take simple steps for 60 minutes that lead to a more autism-friendly world."