‘Autism friendly’ hour at Asda

Pictured at the Autism Friendly Hour trialled in Asda Antrim are: Decoa Irvine and son Harry, Paula Totten (Asda) Cassandra Kerr (Vice Chair Autism NI Antrim Community Support Group) William Brown (Asda), Caroline Hesketh (Chair Autism NI Antrim Community Support Group), Leah Smyth ( constituency assistant for Danny Kinahan MP) Joan McCoy, Antrim and two-year-old Alex. (submitted picture).
Pictured at the Autism Friendly Hour trialled in Asda Antrim are: Decoa Irvine and son Harry, Paula Totten (Asda) Cassandra Kerr (Vice Chair Autism NI Antrim Community Support Group) William Brown (Asda), Caroline Hesketh (Chair Autism NI Antrim Community Support Group), Leah Smyth ( constituency assistant for Danny Kinahan MP) Joan McCoy, Antrim and two-year-old Alex. (submitted picture).

A ‘friendly hour’ aimed at enhancing the shopping experience for people affected by autism has been trialled by Asda in Antrim.

In response to a request from South Antrim MP, Danny Kinahan, the team at Asda Antrim hosted an ‘autism friendly’ session for a local community group whose members struggle with the ‘sensory overload’ of busy, noisy shops.

Aiming to make the experience as stress-free as possible, the trial included briefing all colleagues in advance, dimming lights, switching off the instore radio, and silencing the tannoy.

Caroline Hesketh, chair of Autism NI Antrim Community Support Group, co-ordinated the visit which specifically targeted local families.

“A weekly shopping trip can be an incredibly daunting experience, not least because of other shoppers’ reactions to autism, which is often referred to as a hidden condition.

“However it is vital that children are exposed to everyday experiences in a controlled way, as this helps them cope for the future.

The feedback from all who attended was really positive. The calm, relaxing atmosphere in store was perfect for the children, as was the response from the Asda colleagues who were very supportive and accommodating,” said Caroline.

Danny Kinahan, MP South Antrim, said: “I’m incredibly happy that the recent ‘friendly hour’ at the Asda Antrim store was successful and I would like to thank the colleagues for working with Autism Northern Ireland Antrim Community Support Group to make it possible.

“With so many families affected by autism, and the rising number of people being diagnosed each year, I think it is important that we raise awareness and help families out as much as we possibly can.”

Robert Ryans, store manager Asda Antrim added: “I’ve been speaking with colleagues and customers about how we can help shoppers with autism or disabilities. By running this trial event and making some small changes to our day to day operations, we were able to provide a better shopping experience for local families, which is always worthwhile.”

To encourage other organisations to get involved and help create a more Autism friendly environment for their customers, Autism NI has also developed an ‘Impact Award’. The Award aims to equip businesses with skills to better understand staff and customers who have Autism and also how to adapt their organisation’s environment to support this. Through attaining an ‘Impact Award’ they can more confidently open up their business to the 30,000 individuals and families living with Autism in Northern Ireland. Details about the Award are available from the Training Department on 90401729 or emailing christine.english@autismni.org.