The National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour will be staged at intu’s busy shopping centres across the UK this autumn.
 
The National Autistic Society will launch the first nationwide week-long event in partnership with the owner of intu Trafford Centre, intu Lakeside and intu Metrocentre with every retailer, restaurant and leisure operator at intu’s 14 centres nationwide being asked to reduce their lights, music and other background noise for an hour at 10am on Monday 2 October.
 
All shops and services will be encouraged to follow their lead by taking 60 minutes during the week to provide autistic people with a break from the usual overload of ‘too much information’ and create better environments for autistic customers. Clarks and Toys ‘R’ Us are among retailers who already have signed up to the campaign after previously hosting quiet hours in individual stores.
 
A survey by The National Autistic Society suggests that 64% of autistic people avoid going to the shops, and 28% have been asked to leave a public place for reasons associated with their autism. The charity is asking shops and services to take simple steps for one hour to help create a more autism friendly world – from dimming the lights and turning down music to sharing information about autism with employees.
 
Staff at intu centres already receive training to provide autism-aware customer service and autistic people also benefit from guides that allow them to plan and prepare a visit to each intu centre. intu has also held quiet hours at its centres along with a growing number of other organisations and shops over the past few years, but this is the first attempt, as part of the National Autistic Society’s Too Much Information campaign to create a national event, where shops and services help to reduce the overload that autistic people can experience in public.
 
More than 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum which means that someone sees, hears and feels the world in a different, often more intense way to other people. Autistic people often find social situations difficult and struggle to filter out the sounds, smells, sights and information they experience which means they feel overwhelmed by ‘too much information’ when out in public.
A virtual reality experience created by the National Autistic Society to show the public what ‘too much information’ can feel like for an autistic person in a shopping centre toured intu centres across the UK last year.
Mark Lever, Chief Executive at the National Autistic Societysaid:
“We’re delighted by the response to the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour so far, and that shopping centre owner intu, Clarks and Toys ‘R’ Us are involved already. We’re encouraging other shops and services to follow their lead and take simple steps that will lead to a more autism friendly world.
“Like anyone, autistic people and their families want the opportunity to go to the shops and services on the high street. But our research suggests that many find the often busy, loud and unpredictable environment of public places overwhelming and avoid them altogether.
“We hope that the hour will provide a break for families in the week and in the long term will help spread understanding so that shops and services are more accessible every day of the year.
“A basic understanding of autism could transform the lives of autistic people and their families and avoid them becoming isolated or trapped in their homes.”
Alexander Nicoll, corporate responsibility director at intu, said: “We are asking every shop, restaurant and leisure brand in our centres to dim their lights and reduce their music for an hour and to raise awareness of autism among their staff and customers. We hope that launching the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour in our centres will encourage many more organisations across the country to take these simple steps that will make life easier for the millions of people impacted by autism. 
“We want to put a smile on the face of everyone who visits an intu centre and this means training our staff, supporting our customers and working with brands in our centres as well as organisations like the National Autistic Society to provide a welcoming and accessible experience for all.”
Simon Jones, Head of Retail – Europe, at Clarks said:
“Clarks is proud to have been working with the National Autistic Society for a number of years to understand and improve the shopping experience for our autistic customers. We are excited to have signed up to this national campaign in October, where throughout the entire week there will be a dedicated ‘quiet hour’ in every Clarks store in the UK and Ireland.
“We’ve also worked with the National Autistic Society to develop advanced training for our store teams and we’ve received very positive feedback about the service we provide. It’s extremely important to us that we look after everyone who visits our stores so that they can benefit from our shoe fitting expertise.”
Matt Davis, father to Isaac, aged 9, who is autistic, said:
“Noise, lighting and crowds are all triggers for Isaac so either we avoid shops altogether or we have to put in a great deal of preparation to ensure Isaac doesn’t become overwhelmed. Unfortunately, my wife and I find that the stress doesn’t stop with having to pay close attention to Isaac’s sensory overloads, we also have to take into account the public’s perception of Isaac’s behaviour and that can be difficult.
“In recent years, we have seen an improvement in Isaac’s ability to go to public spaces but we have to make sure it is familiar, it has a quiet area, the lighting is not overwhelming and it is not overcrowded. As you can imagine, predictability in public spaces is not always guaranteed so we still experience many meltdowns. The idea of having specific ‘Autism Hours’ where the triggers of sensory overloads are reduced would make life so much easier and would allow Isaac to prepare effectively.”
To find our more information about the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour, please visit:http://www.autism.org.uk/autismhour