People living with autism can often be sensitive to bright lights, loud noises, and unexpected sounds. That’s why a major retail chain is trying out a “quiet hour” to help people who are neuratypical shop in a safe and convenient environment without having to struggle through the sensory overload that may be too much for them.
An ASDA (think Walmart or Target) in Manchester, England is instituting the “quiet hour” on a trial basis after store manager Simon Lea witnessed a young boy absolutely terrified by the noise of the store (sometimes too much even for those who aren’t living with the disorder) and started thinking about both the boy’s experience and his own battle with anxiety.
From Lea’s statement:
“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 Simon, a 39-year-old married father of two from Hyde.
While Lea admits his original instinct was to tell the mother to control her child–he gave the boy a toy instead–he says that speaking to his co-workers really helped him understand the situation and made him think about how to make shopping pleasant for everyone:
“Following the incident, I’ve been speaking with colleagues and customers about how we can help shoppers with autism or disabilities.”
“I suffered for many years with anxiety and I used to absolutely hate going into busy stores. If we can make a few small changes to give these customers a better shopping experience and make them comfortable then I know the store will be a better place to shop for everyone.”
What does quiet hour actually mean? Well, there’s no need to worry that the store will turn into a library (no one’s going to walk around policing excitement about finding an exceptionally good bargain), but the store will turn off its escalators, shut off its loudspeaker (obviously only in non-emergency cases), turn off the music, and make sure none of the display TVs are blaring away. Lea says that shoppers will be able to “hear a pin drop” when the store opens its doors. And even those who may not be living with a psychological or neurological disorder may benefit from shopping in an environment that’s more soothing than frenetic. Not only is this good for publicity, but people might buy more, too (especially if they’re not constantly distracted by sounds and bright flashes of light).
The store’s first quiet hour will be May 7 at 8 a.m. Because this is so early, it’s unlikely that the lack of royalty-free music blaring over the tinny sound system will bother anyone, and the company will monitor how things go in order to decide whether a quiet hour is something that should be rolled out throughout the chain’s many stores.