intu shopping centres sign up to UK’s first ever mass participation Autism Hour event

The National Autistic Society Autism Hour is the first ever week-long mass participation event where shops and businesses across the UK will become more autism friendly for 60 minutes. Launched in partnership with shopping centre owner, intu over 4,500 stores will be taking part across the UK and will be dimming their lights, turning down music and sharing information about autism for one hour on the week of 2 October.

The event will launch in all 14 of intu’s autism friendly shopping centres, at 10am on 2 October including intu Trafford Centre, intu Lakeside and intu Metrocentre with shops taking part including branches of Marks and Spencer, Clarks, Superdrug, John Lewis and Toys ‘R’ Us. Sainsbury’s and Mothercare are also among the 4,500 individual stores that have signed up, and Lloyds Banking Group will be supporting by educating their colleagues about autism during Autism Hour to support customers.

The National Autistic Society is encouraging autistic adults, children and their families to attend Autism Hours in their local area by using the interactive map which shows which shops and businesses will be taking part throughout the week. The map allows users to zoom in to where you live, filter by category and start planning your visit.

Alexander Nicoll, corporate responsibility director at intu, said: “We will be dimming the lights and turning down the sound at our vibrant shopping destinations as part of our commitment to create more autism-friendly shopping experiences.

“With over a million customers coming into our centres each day, it is important that we provide spaces and environments that are welcoming to all and that will help our retailers to flourish.

“intu is already well known for the support offered to autistic customers, which includes specially-trained staff and autism-friendly guides to our centres and stores. The National Autistic Society approached us to launch autism hours in our centres as a result of this work and our on-going partnership.”

Mark Lever, chief executive at the National Autistic Society, said: “The National Autistic Society is proud to be launching the first ever UK wide Autism Hour event and is thrilled that it’s involving such a vast number of shops and businesses.

“A National Autistic Society survey found  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. We are confident that the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour will provide an opportunity for autistic people and their families to use shops and services that the general public take for granted.

“We are encouraging autistic adults, children and their families to head to the interactive map on our website so they can plan visits to local shops and businesses and enjoy a break from the overload of too much information.

“It is incredible to see that over 4,500 stores across the UK are taking part in this new event and we hope to build on this year on year.”

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.”

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.

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