For autistic people who struggle with sensory issues, everyday tasks such as grocery shopping can be an ordeal. Everything from the sounds to the lights can be utterly overwhelming and lead to overload and meltdowns.
Recognizing this challenge for those on the spectrum, two Coles supermarkets in Victoria, Australia, recently implemented a “quiet hour” for autism families. This special time will take place every Tuesday until October, when the store will evaluate how things have gone and decide where to go from there.
Hopefully the store will continue this amazing initiative; it’s already received widespread praise from autism families. But one testimony in particular is touching hearts.
Emily Dive is the mother to Lachlan, a nine-year-old on the spectrum. Like many other autistic people, he struggles with grocery shopping.
“Crawling under shelves, running out of the store, screaming, running, and yelling are our ‘norm’ when we visits [sic] the supermarket,” Dive explained in a Facebook post to the supermarket chain. “Behaviours that are his way of communicating ‘I can’t cope.'”
However, things were totally different when they visited Coles during the quiet hour. It was an event that Dive described as a “milestone.”
“We filled a trolley!!! No mad dash to get in and out as quickly as possible only grabbing a handful of items,” she said.
Throughout their 40-minute shopping spree, Lachlan was calm and walked beside his mother. It went so well, in fact, that “the hardest challenge he faced was to make a decision about choosing grain waves or tiny teddies.”
Needless to say, it meant a lot to Dive, who said she “was fighting back the tears” the whole time. “Kudos to you Coles for your quiet hour today, and acknowledging your environment for people entering your store can be a sensory land-mine for many to navigate,” she wrote.
There are several different aspects of the Coles quiet hour that make people on the spectrum and their families feel more comfortable. For example, noises from the cash register and scanners are turned down as low as possible, lights are dimmed by 50 percent, PA calls are avoided, staff members are trained about autism, and customers can get free fruit at the customer service desk.
Said Coles accessibility sponsor Peter Sheean: “It’s fantastic to hear that the small changes we made in store to help reduce noise and distractions have helped to make a difference to the shopping experience for our customers who find it challenging to shop in a heightened sensory environment.”
A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.