In a bid to create a more welcoming shopping space for those with autism, national UK supermarket Morrisons has pledged to introduce a ‘quieter hour’ every week in all of their stores.
Between 9am and 10am every Saturday morning, the 439 supermarkets across the UK will dim the lights, turn the music off, and avoid using the tannoy, creating a more peaceful environment for shoppers to browse for their weekly groceries. Many people with autism struggle to cope with situations that can overstimulate senses and a tasks many consider a simple necessity, such as shopping, can become an impossible situation.
According to the autism.org.uk, sensory sensitivity is a common symptom of autism and overstimulation can cause sufferers to withdraw or become irritable. Quoting someone living with autism, the site reads, “If I get sensory overload then I just shut down; you get what's known as fragmentation... it's weird, like being tuned into 40 TV channels.”
The organisation has provided some helpful explanations and advice about shopping with people who have autism. “Autistic people can have difficulty filtering out what other people may be able to ignore as background noise, such as people talking, tills beeping, babies crying. This can be unbearable for some. Some noises, like tannoy announcements, are sudden, loud and unpredictable.” Many people choose to wear earmuffs and peaked caps in order to limit the sounds and sights that they are being forced to process at any one time. For parents with autistic children, and adults with autism this hour could prove invaluable to their lives.
The scheme had initially been trialled by Morrisons in three of its stores in Lincoln, Woking, and Gainsborough and its success has provoked the national roll out.
Morrisons is not the only company with this scheme, most notably The Entertainer, a toy shop, dedicates the first hour of every Saturday to quiet time in order to ensure that they are making children with autism or other sensory issues feel welcome. Tesco have commented that they will not be enforcing the scheme in all of their stores but managers are welcome to introduce a quiet hour to their stores if they deem it appropriate.
Speaking with the BBC, one mum claimed that she would find it extremely helpful if staff were trained to understand the different needs of customers with autism, who could identify themselves with an ‘autism friendly’ badge. She feels that if this were to happen it would "almost take the anxiety away" for her 16-year old son who finds shopping an incredibly stressful experience, especially when paying and having to interact with people.
The Alzheimer’s Society, a charity looking to support those living with Alezheimer's, runs a Dementia Friends scheme where ordinary people can learn about what it’s like to live with dementia. These people are then encouraged to take action in their own communities to support people living with the disease and make their lives a little easier. A similar scheme for people to learn about the different needs of autistic people would likely be received well among those living with autism.
Comments from mum Tabitha Campbell Beattie, whose son Toby is on the autism spectrum, believes that training would go a long way and suggests that a quiet hour may not be enough. "If a supermarket has a quieter hour, that doesn't stop the supermarket being busy with long queues which can be an added stress," she told the BBC. Adding, "a time zone where disabled children, young adults and so on—not just with autism but other disabilities —should be allowed to shop without the normal public in the shops."
Nevertheless, The National Autistic Society has deemed Morrisons' decision as a "step in the right direction."