Autistic consultant and speaker Ronnie Pinder, who also works for Tesco in York, shares his experiences of the challenges he faces when out shopping and in his busy workplace. 

"When I’m out and about on the high street, noise isn’t a huge issue for me, although I know it is for other autistic people. What really gets me is the type of artificial lighting some high street shops use. It can really affect me profoundly and physically. As soon as I walk through the entrances to some of these places I feel like I’ve hit brick wall, or that a huge weight is pressing down on my shoulders, pushing me into the ground. My head feels unbearably heavy and I just have to get out of there as quickly as possible.  After an experience like that I can feel dizzy and sick for a couple of days. 

"Many shops will tone down their lighting for this year’s Autism Hour; this is great, but think how many potential customers businesses would gain if softer lighting was used every day of the year.

"For the last six years I’ve worked in what is probably the largest Tesco store in York.  One of the reasons I’ve stayed here is because of the brilliant support I’ve received from senior managers and the small adjustments they’ve made in store that have helped me and my autistic colleagues manage a busy environment that presents us with lots of sensory and other challenges.

"Some of the changes that have made an enormous difference have included the establishment of a quiet room which is available to all staff if they are feeling anxious or overloaded. Shift changes are managed well and dates and times are never altered unexpectedly, which helps reduce the anxiety felt by autistic employees if their routine is disrupted without any warning.

"I never have to work in areas of the store where the light might affect me. I also work closely with a senior manager to deliver in-house training for staff so that they understand their autistic colleagues and customers better. I even coordinate an autistic social group that meets in a free community space inside the store. I think our store is a fantastic example of what can be achieved for employees and customers with just a little thought, understanding and respect. I really hope others will follow their lead."

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