Nick Ward: Businesses doing their bit on the quiet to help with autism

Nick Ward, Director of National Autistic Society Scotland
Nick Ward, Director of National Autistic Society Scotland
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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.