UK shops to fall quiet to help people with autism

Shops across the UK will fall quiet later this year as part of a project to raise awareness of autism.

The “Autism Hour” event has been organised by the National Autistic Society to help draw attention to the difficulties that people with autism can face in noisy environments.

In the first week of October, businesses will turn down music, reduce tannoy announcements and dim lights to help create a calming and less daunting environment.

Shop workers will also be given information about autism and how they can support autistic people.

A number of major retailers have already signed up to the initiative, including Clarks and Toys R Us.

Research by the National Autistic Society shows 79 per cent of autistic people feel socially isolated and 64 per cent avoid going to the shops. A further 28 per cent have been asked to leave a public place because of something associated with their autism, while 16 per cent of people with autism feel the wider public understands them.

More than one in 100 people in the UK are on the autistic spectrum.

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “We’re delighted by the response to Autism Hour so far. These simple steps will lead to a more autism-friendly world.”

Families of people with autism welcomed the campaign. Natasha Lee, who lives in north Wales and has three autistic sons, told The Sunday Times: “The only way I can describe the feeling when the public mistake your children’s behaviour during a meltdown, is gut-wrenching.

“When people are staring at and judging your child for being naughty and you know that really they are in incomprehensible pain, experiencing noise as loud as a blaring concert and light so bright it’s the equivalent of shining a torch in their eyes, it just makes you feel helpless.

“If Autism Hour can successfully improve understanding and support of my children’s needs, I would feel an overwhelming amount of hope.”

Matt Davis, whose nine-year-old son Isaac 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 my son doesn’t become overwhelmed.”