Shops, cafes and other businesses can be a sensory overload for many autistic people. They can be crowded, unpredictable, loud, bright and can mean an extremely stressful experience – with staff and the public not knowing how to help.
Sadly, this means many autistic people and their families find visiting shops too stressful and simply avoid them altogether. They close themselves off and their world shrinks. That’s one of the reasons why two- thirds of Scotland’s 58,000 autistic people told us that they feel socially isolated.
This needs to change and that’s why we’re delighted that more than 1,250 businesses across Scotland are taking part in a week of Autism Hours from 5 to 12 October, where retailers and businesses can offer a more autism-friendly shopping experience.
Holding an Autism Hour means making small adjustments, like dimming lights, turning off loud music, setting aside a quiet space, and making sure staff are extra aware of autistic customers.
We’re delighted too that the Scottish Parliament is participating this year by looking at how they can make a visit to the building more autism- friendly.
Since starting out in 2017, thousands of businesses have participated – encouragingly many continue to hold Autism Hours on a regular basis such as Morrisons, The Entertainer and an array of independent retailers.
I hope this national moment will see autistic people and their families enjoy a more relaxed shopping experience and provide staff and members of the public with the opportunity to understand a little more about the sensory challenges facing autistic people.
Autism Hour is also so much more than just 60 minutes. It is a moment to celebrate what businesses in Scotland are doing to include autistic people, and to make the case for more permanent autism-friendly changes.
A few adjustments and a little awareness can go a long way and I hope businesses and retailers will seize the opportunity to make a real difference for autistic shoppers and their families.
To find out about Autism Hours happening near you, please visit our interactive map at www.autism.org.uk/autismhour
You can also find out more information by following the Twitter hashtag #AutismHour
Nick Ward, director of National Autistic Society Scotland.