For many shoppers, a trip to the supermarket is ho-hum. But for some people with autism and other conditions, it’s an ordeal filled with overwhelming sensory input, from the whirr of escalators to the crash of carts to loud in-store music bursting from speakers. In one British market, that auditory chaos will come to a halt for a single hour in May. It's a quiet move designed to raise awareness about autism.
The Manchester Evening News’ John Scheerhout writes that the Cheetham Hill Asda will test its first-ever “quiet hour” on May 7 at 8 a.m. Store manager Simon Lea tells Scheerhout that he came up with the idea after watching a child with autism experience a meltdown from the sensory input at the store.
To prepare it for a completely quiet experience sans music, TV displays, announcements, escalators and other loud noises, employees will come in an hour early that day, and customers will even be given a picture map of the store so they can navigate in peace, the BBC reports.
In a Facebook post about the initiative, Lea writes that he is trying to create a “less stressful, quieter shopping experience” each Saturday for individuals with autism and others who need a bit of quiet in their day.
Lea’s goal is to raise awareness, but the sensory issues suffered by people with autism, sensory processing disorder, disabilities and mental health issues are still overlooked by many. Different conditions can cause people to have trouble processing verbal, auditory and other input, and as the British National Autism Society writes, individuals who receive too much information can experience “stress, anxiety, and possibly physical pain,” resulting in challenging behaviors, meltdowns or withdrawal from input altogether.
Sensory issues are now part of the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorders, but a debate still rages over whether sensory processing disorder should be considered an independent disorder. Either way, many people experience the cacophony of daily life as an assault on the senses—one with real-life ramifications.
If Asda’s quiet hour is a success, it could be rolled out to other stores—and the attention garnered by the experiment will bring awareness to the issues faced by people who experience adverse reactions to too much auditory input. Consider it a (very quiet) shot fired in the struggle to make public spaces more welcoming to all.