Ahead of Autism Hour 2019 in October, the National Autism Society explains the simple steps stores can take to help more of the 700,000 autistic people in the UK go shopping.

Creating an environment that helps autistic people enjoy a trip to the shops more is the aim of the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hours campaign, sponsored for the second year by The Entertainer. Together they are encouraging stores, businesses and shopping centres across the UK to hold Autism Hours during the second week of October.

 64% of autistic people avoid the shops

Like anyone else, autistic people and their families want to have the option of going to the shops, whether to pick up the weekly shopping, buy a coffee or browse with a friend. Yet National Autistic Society surveys suggest that 64% of autistic people avoid the shops. And, shockingly, 28% of autistic people have been asked to leave a public place for reasons associated to their autism.

Being autistic means experiencing the world in a different, often more intense way to other people. They often find social situations difficult and can struggle to filter out the sounds, smells, sights and information they experience, which can make busy public places, such as stores and shopping centres, overwhelming.

Since the charity launched the campaign in 2017, 16,000 shops and businesses have joined the campaign and more than 38,000 autism-friendly hours have taken place – totalling 1,583 days or 4.3 years. 

Autism Hour is designed to show businesses the simple steps they can take to improve the shopping experience for their autistic customers.

And encouraged by this campaign, stores such as The Entertainer have committed to regular autism-friendly shopping hours throughout the year, which makes a big difference to the 700,000 autistic people in the UK, and their three million family members and carers.

Simple changes

  • Turning down music and other noise: Overwhelming noise is a common barrier to autistic people accessing shops. Where possible, in-store tannoy announcements and other controllable noise should be reduced.
  • Sharing information about autism with employees: We do not expect everyone to be an autism expert but we believe everyone should understand autism. We will provide information about autism to help your staff make your customers’ experience a positive one.
  • Dimming the lights: Lighting, particularly fluorescent strip lighting, can be overwhelming for autistic people. Wherever possible, whilst maintaining a safe environment, lights should be dimmed or switched off.
  • Helping the public understand autism: During the week of October 5 to 12, we will be asking participating shops and business to share information about autism with their customers.

The founder and executive chairman of The Entertainer, Gary Grant, said: “We are delighted to sponsor Autism Hour for the second year. We always strive to make our stores a happy place for people to visit and so it is imperative that we adapt our in-store environment to create a more comfortable space for autistic people.

”The Entertainer is somewhere for children to explore their imagination and become inspired by all of the toys available and so we hope by supporting Autism Hour in addition to running our own Quiet Hour initiative, more families will feel confident when it comes to shopping with us.

“I would like to encourage other founders and CEOs of high street shops and businesses to contact the National Autistic Society and join this fantastic campaign.”

Jane Harris_NAS

Jane Harris is director of external affairs and social change at the National Autistic Society

Autism Hour 2019 takes place between October 5 to 12. Sign up for free resources here.