It is estimated that 1.1% of the population in the UK may be on the autism spectrum – that’s 700,000 autistic people in the UK, as well as three million family members. Yet how much thought is given to parents, caregivers, and family members of individuals with autism and the challenges they experience in public places and making a more autism friendly UK?
In this busy world we live in, public places can be intense and overwhelming places at the best of times. Let’s be honest – sometimes I even find it too much. Imagine then, how it feels to someone with autism. The sensory overload they experience in a public place which can lead to outbursts or meltdowns in children which other people may just not understand. For autistic people in general, 64% say they avoid the shops and 28% have been asked to leave a public place for reasons associated with their autism.
Autism awareness leads to autism acceptance
That’s why I’m so thrilled that celebrities and major high-street names are backing a new initiative – Autism Hour – which is working toward a more autism friendly UK by calling on UK retailers to create safe and autism-friendly shopping spaces between 6-13th October.
Autism Hour, an initiative by the National Autistic Society, encourages shops
to take simple steps to be more autism friendly for just 60 minutes during the
second week in October.
Major high street names have signed up, including The Entertainer,
Sainsbury’s, Argos, Lloyds Bank, Halifax, Bank of Scotland, Co-op and Schuh with celebrities such as Chris Packham, Anne Hegerty and Christine McGuinness backing the charity initiative and I say hats off to them for getting behind it.
Over 10,000 stores are already listed, and you can visit the online map here. Continuing their fight for a more autism friendly UK, Autism Hour will promote autism friendly shopping experiences across the UK. Shops, businesses and shopping centres will take simple steps to make their businesses more accessible to autistic people for one hour during the week, such as:
- turning down music and other noise
- dimming fluorescent strip lighting
- sharing information about autism with employees
What goes on in that beautiful mind?
Being autistic means seeing, hearing and feeling the world in a different, often more intense way to other people. Autistic people 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, like shops, overwhelming.
A film created by Don’t Panic and distributed by VT demonstrates just how overwhelming it can be, and calls on people to spread the word ahead of the first Autism Hour this Saturday – encouraging autistic people, their families and members of the UK public to go along and show support.
You can watch the film here:
Until all of the pieces fit…
I think this is an amazing initiative from The National Autistic Society which not only raises such an important issue that affects so many people in the UK and I truly hope that it will have a lasting impact beyond the week because here we are with an opportunity to make a big difference to the lives of autistic people through simple changes that are so easy to implement.
I think the words of Christine McGuinness, mother to 5-year-old autistic twins Penelope and Leo, and star of ITVBe’s Real Housewives of Cheshire really sum up the impact of this initiative so fantastically:
“The National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour is a brilliant way of showing shops how easy it can be to make little changes that have a huge impact for families like mine. As a mum to autistic children, it is my job to protect them and help make a world which works for them.
Like any other family, we want to have the option of going to shops, to go clothes shopping with them and let them pick out clothes and experience a fun family day out. Something that people may take for granted.”
Towards a more autism friendly UK
Meanwhile Chris Packham, TV presenter, naturalist and National Autistic
Society ambassador shares his experience:
“I rarely go into supermarkets. I find that environment really challenging, all of the bright lights, the confusion of the enormous complexity of goods in there, plus all the smells and the sounds. It’s a difficult environment. And that’s why I’m very keen to support Autism Hour, those shops which offer an hour where they make the whole atmosphere a lot more relaxing
for autistic people.”
Quite right too Chris.
Find out more about the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour and how to get involved by visiting: autism.org.uk/AutismHour
*This post has been commissioned in support of Autism Hour