Morrisons has introduced a weekly “quieter hour” for autistic shoppers

All of the chain’s UK supermarkets will dim lights, stop background music, avoid the tannoy and turn down check-out beeps on Saturday mornings from 09:00am to 10:00am. Signs will explain the scheme, highlighting its aim of providing a calm environment for shoppers.

“Listening to customers, we found that one in five had a friend or family member with autism and many liked the idea of being able to shop in more comfort,” says Angela Gray, Morrisons’ community champion at their Woking store. “I was involved in the initial trial as my son is autistic and we found that these changes made a real difference. It showed there is
a need for a quieter shopping experience.”

Supermarket shopping can prove an intense and anxiety-inducing experience for people who have autism, explains Tom Purser, head of campaigns at the National Autistic Society. “Around 700,000 people are on the autism spectrum in the UK. Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.

“This means they see, hear and feel the world differently… often in a more intense way, which can make shopping a real struggle. Even small changes make a big difference to the lives of autistic people and their families. Shops can help by lowering lighting and noise levels and giving staff training about autism.”

The National Autistic Society is encouraging retailers to take part in a nationwide ‘autism hour’, which will see shops and businesses allocate time slots specifically for autistic customers between 6th – 13th October.

Hastings store manger Dawn Hills confirmed the Hastings store’s participation in the quiet day. “The lights went down, it did happen. We had about 5-10 customers (on August 4th).
The music is automatically dimmed and turned off by head office until 10.15am.”

Charlotte King, from Hampshire, whose three-year-old son Darcy is undergoing diagnosis for autism, said the initiative is “amazing”, making it “far less stressful” for adults with autism and parents of children with the condition.

“The noise, the lights, (are) too much for him to take in. It looks like you are a bad parent with a naughty child. Parents will be more relaxed knowing there will be people there that understand and won’t judge them, this will help reduce anxiety levels for everyone.”

And in the most recent update, it appears that it is not only autistic people and their families that appreciate the initiative. Many customers and staff have expressed their approval of
a calmer shopping and working environment.

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