Store Launches 'Quiet Hour' To Help Shoppers With Autism

by Jerriann Sullivan
Originally Published: 
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Asda quiet hour will make stores less overwhelming for shoppers

Superstores are packed with various things that make noise — TVs, computers, escalators, and in-store music are just a few. Combine that with people and it can be overwhelming for any shopper, but especially for those with autism. One retailer in the United Kingdom found a way to help — the Asda quiet hour.

Simon Lea, the manager of Asda Living in Manchester, said an experience with a young boy who was shopping with his mom prompted him to rethink ways they could help customers with autism. “This boy was playing absolute blue murder, kicking and screaming. His mum just looked drained. She told me he suffers from autism. He was having a meltdown,” said Lea, who has two kids.

Wanting to help the boy, Lea gave him a voucher and a football, which helped the child calm down. “His mum was the happiest I have ever seen anyone and just for giving him a football,” Lea told the Manchester Evening News. The interaction made the store manager realize he could do more for children and adults with autism, who often experience sensory overload, especially in crowded and loud spaces.

The National Autistic Society suggests being aware and creative when trying to help someone who has a meltdown from sensory overload. So Lea enlisted the help of an employee with an autistic child and customers with disabilities to brainstorm ways to create a more inclusive environment. The result was the quiet hour that brings staff in an hour early to prep. “When we open the doors you will be able to hear a pin drop. That’s the plan,” Lea said.

Escalators, music, and TVs will all be shut off and customers will be given a map of the store that has pictures instead of words. “We have a lot of disabled customers, and we want to make the shop better for them,” Lea said. He also shared his struggles with chaotic spaces. “I suffered for many years with anxiety. I used to absolutely hate going into busy stores,” he said. “There are many people who don’t talk about it.”

The goal is to help all types of customers, including those that would just prefer a quiet store when they shop. It is hard not to support this idea. Who hasn’t been stuck shopping, music blaring, head throbbing and thought, “this is why I shop online!” I know my family spends far too much money on Amazon because we hate crowded spaces. One of our family members has hearing damage from his time in the military so being stuck in a loud area gives him a migraine. We would immediately attend a quiet hour at a store.

“It’s all about helping people really. Six months ago I would have said ‘control your child’ even though I’ve got children,” Lea said. “But speaking to people with autism and disabled people has helped me think about how I can make it a better place to shop.”

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