We caught up with blogger, Billie-Jade, who shares how overwhelming visiting a shopping centre can be for her, and how simple changes from the public can benefit such a large part of our community.

Billie-Jade head shot and quote

Why is Autism Hour important to you?

It’s important to me as it promotes the need for the public to be more accepting and knowledgeable on autism. The campaign projects the message that simple adjustments can make a huge difference for those on the autistic spectrum

More than 1 in 100 people are diagnosed with autism, which is an extremely high statistic and a very large part of the community. All it takes is for a few neurotypicals to take the time to understand the condition and how they can make the world a more autism friendly place and it has the potential to make all the difference. I feel this is at the heart of Autism Hour.

What is a shopping experience like for you?

Shopping experiences have never gone well for me in the past. Nowadays, they are virtually non-existent as I prefer to do all my shopping online. Online shopping means the communication aspect is taken away, as is the overload of products when you enter a shop. When I enter a clothing shop I find it hard to differentiate between all the different styles, colours and patterns - it often leaves me with a headache.

I will sometimes go to a supermarket to pick up ingredients for baking. I will make sure that before I enter the shop I have saved photos on my phone of exactly what I am looking for so that I can get in and out as fast as I can. I want to spend as little time in there as possible; squeezing through trolleys of people chatting noisily amongst a mixture of offensive smells is not a pleasant experience for me. On top of this, I find the product placement confusing and often can't locate what I need. Rather than ask a staff member for assistance I will panic and leave the shop, empty handed.

Have you ever experienced a time when a member of staff/shop has made an effort to be understanding of autism or a sensory issue?

Sadly, I have not. I believe this is more due to me being a typical female with ASD and masking my autism in public and social situations. I wouldn't feel comfortable informing a shop assistant of my autism and asking for assistance. This may be my error; I assume they would lack knowledge of the condition and not know how to help me.

What could shops do to make the experience better for you?

I think Autism Hour is a brilliant way to educate businesses and the general public on how small changes can have a positive impact for those on the autistic spectrum.

Why should businesses make these accommodations for just one hour per year?

I think if businesses could stay open an hour longer than usual for one day per week and dedicate it to a time where autistic people can do their shopping in a quieter, dimmer environment it would make all the difference.

I know for most businesses this may not be feasible. Even if businesses could educate their employees and provide training on autism and what to look out for in customers then they could be of vital help should a situation occur where an autistic customer is having a meltdown.

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The National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour, supported by The Entertainer