The UK’s first nationwide ‘quiet hour’ for people with autism will take place in shops from 2 October.
The National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour will see shops and services providing people with autism a break from the usual overload of ‘too much information’.
The initiative comes after a recent survey found 64% of autistic people avoid going to the shops and 28% have been asked to leave a public place for reasons associated with the condition.
More than one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum, meaning they see, hear and feel the world in a different, often more intense, way.
Matt Davis, who has a nine-year-old son with autism, said: “Noise, lighting and crowds are all triggers for Isaac so either we avoid shops altogether or we have to put in a great deal of preparation to ensure Isaac doesn’t become overwhelmed.
“Unfortunately, my wife and I find that the stress doesn’t stop with having to pay close attention to Isaac’s sensory overloads, we also have to take into account the public’s perception of Isaac’s behaviour and that can be difficult.”
A growing number of shops and organisations have been holding quiet hours over the past few years to help people with autism, but this is the first attempt to create a national event.
Autism Hour will start on Monday 2 October, taking place for a week. During this time, shops and services will take simple steps for one hour each day to raise awareness of autism, by sharing information with employees, and help reduce information overload by dimming the lights and turning down music.
The Autism Hour is supported by shopping centre owner intu and will take place in 13 of their centres across the UK including the Trafford centre and Lakeside shopping centre.
Clarks and Toys ‘R’ Us are among the shops and services which have already signed up. The National Autistic Society is now calling on others to do the same.
Simon Jones, head of retail at Clarks, said: “Clarks is proud to have been working with the National Autistic Society for a number of years to understand and improve the shopping experience for our autistic customers.
“We are excited to have signed up to this national campaign in October, where throughout the entire week there will be a dedicated ‘quiet hour’ in every Clarks store in the UK and Ireland.”
The retailer is also working with the charity to develop advanced training for its store teams.
Mark Lever, chief executive at the National Autistic Society, said he is “delighted” by the response so far.
“We’re encouraging other shops and services to follow their lead and take simple steps that will lead to a more autism friendly world,” he said.
“Like anyone, autistic people and their families want the opportunity to go to the shops and services on the high street. But our research suggests that many find the often busy, loud and unpredictable environment of public places overwhelming and avoid them altogether.
“We hope that the hour will provide a break for families in the week and in the long term will help spread understanding so that shops and services are more accessible every day of the year.
“A basic understanding of autism could transform the lives of autistic people and their families and avoid becoming isolated or trapped in their homes.”
To find our more information about the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour, please visit: http://www.autism.org.uk/autismhour