Shopping in a supermarket can be an overwhelming experience for many people with autism. The bright lights, loud noises, background music, and crowds of people combine to create sensory overload. One store manager witnessed the effect of the environment on a child with autism and decided to try to help by offering a “quiet hour” for shoppers.
Simon Lea, the manager of an Asda Living location in Manchester, England, was having an average day at work when he saw a young boy having a meltdown as his tired mother tried to calm him down and finish her shopping. He went over to help and learned that the boy had autism and was overwhelmed by the store environment. This got Lea thinking, and after spending a few weeks talking to people with various different abilities, he devised the plan to create the quiet hour.
He scheduled the first quiet hour for Saturday, May 7, 2016. On days with quiet hours, the store opens an hour early and has no background noise for that period. Lea and his staff planned to turn off the background music and television displays, as well as refrain from using the loudspeaker. Customers can also pick up a picture map of the store to help them shop more efficiently.
Lea can empathize with people with autism because he suffered from anxiety for years. During that time, he found busy stores overwhelming and frightening as well. He hopes that it can help people with all manner of different abilities use the store more comfortably. Asda’s corporate office agrees, and they plan to monitor the results of the store and see whether it is possible to implement this plan more widely. This quiet hour also fits into a trend of growing awareness of autism and more concentrated efforts by stores to not just accommodate but welcome people with different abilities.