Hurrah for Supervalu supermarket chain in Ireland, for acknowledging the needs of autistic shoppers – or more accurately their parents.
A small number of stores have introduced quiet hours, with reduced lighting and the sensory assaults of humming fridges and freezers, TVs, piped music and PA announcements switched off.
Sadly, on digging deeper into the story, my heart sinks to see the low-stimulation shopping periods are in the evenings, 7-9pm.
Most people with an autistic child will agree that routine changes are a major cause of fractious behaviour, many on the autism spectrum don’t cope well with even minor alterations to their daily schedule.
In the dark early years before our diagnosis, I clung to the necessary strictness of our evening dinner, bath, book, bed. It was the only chink of sanity in our daily torment. It didn’t help my daughter to sleep, but we knew any change in that schedule would have a knock-on effect on her behaviour for days.
Many autists cling to routine because knowing what to expect is a source of enormous comfort in a world of terrifying surprises. Put simply, routine equals control and control offers a sense of security.
It’s fair to say autism has controlled our lives since my daughter was born. Social events were necessarily curtailed early. If I didn’t get her home and into the D-B-B-B routine at a normal time, the gates of hell could be opened.
So while I applaud the token efforts of these sensory-friendly initiatives, I also realise I could never have taken advantage of them. Did they really liaise with ASD parents and families? I find it hard to believe.
A quick search revealed an ASDA store in England has also introduced a quiet hour – starting at 8am! I’d never have got my youngster ready and out of the house that early, so yet again, a gesture with its heart in the right place but of limited use.