What
  • Airlines
  • Airports
  • Amusement Parks
  • Apps
  • Arenas/Stadiums
  • Attractions
  • Beaches
  • Botanical Gardens
  • Churches
  • Cinemas/Movie Theatres
  • Clothing Stores
  • College - Universities
  • Conferences/Workshops
  • Dentists
  • Employers - Workspaces
  • Festivals
  • Games / Birthday Parties
  • Grocery Stores
  • Health Care Providers
  • Hotels/Resorts
  • Libraries
  • Museums
  • Restaurants
  • Santa Claus Parades 2019
  • Science Centers
  • Sensitive Santa 2019
  • Sensory Club
  • Sensory Products
  • Theatre / Concerts
  • Trampoline Parks
  • Travel Companies
  • Zoos
Where

How are Autism Hour and Sensory-Friendly Shopping related?  Are they for more than just autistic persons?

Have you seen a store promote autism hour?  Alternatively, do shops in your community promote sensory-friendly shopping times?  Curious about what autism hour is?  As well as what it means and why it’s popularity is growing?   Finally, are you surprised when people say they do not have autism, but still shop and come in to shop during autism hour? This article provides you with answers.

First, know that autism is a developmental disorder.  That means it starts in early childhood, even infancy, and causes difficulty in daily life.  Furthermore, symptoms of autism may only become more apparent as a child grows.  Additionally, autism is life-long.

Autism causes difficulties with a person’s behavior, their communication, their interests, and their daily activities.  As a result, autistic people often have difficulty with changes in daily routines.  For example, they might want to repeat things, and they might have limited interests.  What is more, they also likely struggle with social situations.  As well as communication.  Finally, and critical to autism hour, they often have difficulty with their senses.

Therefore, given all of these possible difficulties, going out to shop can be a challenge for autistic persons.

Autism hour is a specific time that designed to be more comfortable for people with autism.  Furthermore, it helps their families shop with them too.  For instance, sometimes stores join together to offer autism hour at the same time across different places.

Quite sensory friendly shopping

Family Shopping

Next, what is Sensory Friendly Shopping?

Sensory-friendly shopping helps people who have a sensory impairment or sensory processing disorder.  For example,  that might be an autistic person or someone with a hidden disability.

Sensory Friendly grocery shopping

However, not all stores offer the same sensory-friendly shopping experience.

Sensory-friendly shopping is similar to, if not identical to autism hour. Nonetheless, there can be differences between them.

In general, sensory-friendly shopping aims to make the shopping experience less busy, noisy and bright for all shoppers.  Sensory refers to the senses.  Subsequently, friendly refers to making shopping more agreeable and accessible to shoppers.

In contrast, autism hour tends to be focused on autistic persons and their families.

The table below compares autism hour to sensory-friendly shopping.

Feature

Autism Hour

Sensory Friendly Shopping

Explanation

Appointment Yes Yes Create appointment times for shoppers to control the number of people in the store or space
Noise down or off Yes Yes All unnecessary noises are turned down or off

e.g. no background music

Adjust lights Yes Yes Reduce or eliminate:

-spotlights

-shining lights

-moving lights

-fluorescent lights

Limit shoppers Yes Yes The overall number of shoppers is limited
Sensory Room Yes Yes The location has a sensory room.  It has  toys and/or sensory equipment designed for children to enjoy sensory-motor play
Noise-canceling headphones or earmuffs Yes Yes Noise-canceling headphones are offered. This allows shoppers to wear to block out noise
Quiet Hours Yes Yes Specific times when the noise level is reduced at the location
Quiet Room Yes Yes Sometimes the noise in the whole place cannot be reduced.  However,  a specific room is designed as quiet.  So, that room can have reduced noise
Sensory Backpack or Sensory Kit Yes Yes Contains items like noise-canceling headphones, fidget toys, weighted lap pad, chewable jewelry, drink container with a straw, candy or gum, putty or playdoh
 Story:  a sensory story

 

Maybe Yes Provide a Sensory Story.  Sensory Stories are commonly used for children with sensory processing disorder to explain what sensory experience to expect.
Sensory-Friendly Map Yes Yes A map that shows specific areas that are nosier, busier or brighter.  In addition, places that have a strong sensory component like smells.  The map also might show where a sensory room or quiet room is located.
Social Story

 

Yes Maybe Social Stories™ are often used for people with autism to explain what to expect in a social situation.
Staff Training Yes Yes Additional staff training occurs.  Hence, staff learns how to help people with autism.  As well as about how to be sensory-friendly.  Furthermore, staff learn how to help people with  other disabilities
Visual schedule Yes Maybe  A visual list that might be written. Alternatively in pictures.  It tells or shows the sequence of events that will occur at the store

Who offers Sensory-Friendly Shopping?

It might surprise you to learn that sensory-friendly shopping is offered by different types of stores. 

For instance, these places may offer sensory-friendly shopping:

  • department store
  • grocery store
  • market
  • pop-up store
  • retail store
  • shopping center
  • shopping mall
  • specialty store
  • supermarket
  • strip mall

Who goes to Sensory-Friendly Shopping?

Over 33% of the population is likely to experience something called sensory overload in daily life.  Hence, for some people, a disorder (like autism), disability or difference is the cause of their sensory overload.   On the other hand, for other people, they just prefer less noise, less light, and fewer crowds.  Besides, shopping can be a sensory-rich experience.  There is a lot to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell while shopping, and many people enjoy that.  On the other hand, many people, including people who experience sensory overload, shopping can be unpleasant because of sensory-rich experiences.  

Why do people go to Sensory-Friendly Shopping?

Sensory overload means that the senses are overloaded.  Sensory means your senses.  Furthermore, overload in this context means overwhelmed or overstimulated or simply too much information coming to your senses.

Did you know that you have more than five senses (what you see, hear, taste, touch, and smell)?

Your sense of balance is called your vestibular sense.  So, your sense of balance keeps you from falling over.

You also have a sense of movement, called proprioception.  Moreover, your sense of movement tells your brain where your body is in space.  In addition, it lets you coordinate moving your muscles and joints.

Lastly, you also have an eighth sense called interoception.  That is the sense of your internal organs.  Importantly, interoception lets you know when you are hungry, thirsty or need to go to the bathroom.

When sensory-friendly shopping is offered, shoppers are less likely to experience sensory overload.   And by going shopping during those times, shoppers often expect less judgment if they or a family member have difficulty with the experience.

Sensory-rich shopping

People with sensitivities can still enjoy shopping or at least have a less overwhelming experience.

Shopping can be sensory-rich, there is often a lot of noise and bright lights.  There can be strong smells. However, even pleasant ones like fresh bread from a bakery can cause sensory overload and be overwhelming.

Sensory overload means that at least one, but often more than one sense, is receiving too much information.  Specifically, shopping causes sensory overload because it is sensory-rich and people with sensory overload find it unpleasant to be in a place that is noisy, busy, crowded and bright.  Additionally, they find moving around with many people difficult.  Finally, they might worry about being able to access the bathroom.   

How does a store create a Sensory Friendly Shopping experience?

The following list will help get you started creating a sensory-friendly shopping experience.  Furthermore, this list of recommendations, when implemented will make shopping more comfortable for people with other disorders, disabilities or differences.

First, ensure your facility follows standards and laws regarding accessibility.  Moreover, different countries, states, provinces, or municipalities have different standards regarding accessibility.  You must consult and follow those accommodations for people with disabilities.

Create sensory-friendly shopping by doing these things:

  • Adjust the lighting to be less bright
  • Allow guide dogs and service animals
  • Anticipate more children
  • Avoid dynamic or moving lights
  • Create a quiet room or quiet area if overall noise cannot be reduced
  • Diminish glare
  • Ensure your facility meets all municipal, provincial or state and national accessibility standards or laws
  • Give staff extra  training on helping people with disability
  • Involve your head office or corporate office to get everyone on board
  • Let shoppers know if there are sensory-rich areas in your store
  • Limit the overall number of shoppers
  • Loan noise-canceling headphones
  • Make available sensory bags or sensory kits
  • Offer access to drinking water
  • Provide manual wheelchairs, motorized shopping carts or shopping carts with special disability seats
  • Provide shoppers with “lone” fruits to snack on during their visit
  • Reduce or eliminate scents
  • Seek the input of your staff about what to changes they can make in their departments
  • Tell shoppers what to expect
  • Turn the volume level down or off on anything unnecessary.

Explanations of sensory-friendly shopping strategies:

Lights

Fluorescent lights in the store can be particularly bothersome to people.   So to can light that move or shimmer.  Moreover, spotlights can also cause sensory overload.  Adjust the lighting in your stores to make the experience more sensory-friendly.  In addition, use natural light.  However, reducing glare from the sun with shades is also needed.

Accessibility

Expect that shoppers with disabilities are more likely to have guide dogs and service animals.  Thus, making sure your facility meets accessibility standards is paramount.  For example, some shops have wheelchairs, motorized shopping carts, and shopping carts with disability seats for children onsite and available.   Also, limiting the overall number of shoppers also creates more space for everyone to move around.

Training

Extra staff training to teach the team about disabilities and how to help shoppers with a disability is also key.  Critically, involve the team in suggesting ways they can make their department or area more sensory-friendly.  Furthermore, involve head office or your stores’ corporate office.  Likewise, ensure that everyone is onboard and helpful.  Additionally, team members have great knowledge of their particular departments and services.  Thus they often come up with more ideas to make the shopping experience sensory-friendly.  Finally, be prepared.  You should also expect that more shoppers with children will visit during sensory-friendly shopping hours.

Noise

Reducing noise is incredibly important during sensory-friendly shopping.  First, turn off music playing the background.  Second, stop noisy equipment.  Third, shut off or turn down the beeps of cash registers and scanners.  Moreover, avoid tasks that are noisy during sensory-friendly shopping like collecting shopping carts which make noise when they bang together.  However, if you cannot turn off unnecessary sounds in the whole store or location, then create a quiet room or quiet area where sounds can be turned off.  Also, consider loaning out noise-canceling headphones.  In addition, sensory bags or sensory kits (see the table below for ideas of what to put inside) are also very helpful for children who experience sensory overload.

Taste, smell

Ensure you have clean and accessible bathrooms. Also, make sure you have drinking water on site.  As an example for grocery stores, offer free “single” fruits.  It helps you eliminate food waste and helps shoppers too.  Hungry or thirsty shoppers are not happy shoppers!  Nor are shoppers who cannot find or use the bathroom.

General

Let shoppers know if there are sensory-rich areas in your store.  Sometimes you cannot reduce where strong smells (even pleasant ones like baking) might be present if they cannot be reduced or eliminated.  Finally, tell, show and write out what sensory-friendly changes you have made so shoppers know what to expect.

Christel Seeberger, founder and CEO of Sensory Friendly Solutions and occupational therapist has been interviewed a number of times about sensory-friendly shopping.  Read about the rise of sensory-friendly shopping in Yahoo News.

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