Tom Hewitt headshot with quote on purple backgroundMeet Tom Hewitt, autistic man, library assistant, journalist, and Notts County football fan! Tom shares his shopping stories with us and explains why he's supporting Autism Hour.

Why is Autism Hour important to you? 

Autism Hour is going to be a one of a kind event which I feel will significantly improve the public's understanding and awareness of autism across the country. It’s no secret that most like myself on the spectrum will experience difficulties in and around public environments, so I believe that this event will help to improve the confidence of those on the spectrum. It’s important we have these kind of events, because I have experienced severe anxiety issues when walking around a large shopping centre from a young age. I feel that Autism Hour will not only give a platform for those on the spectrum to embrace themselves and enjoy a stress-free shopping experience, but also greatly highlight the challenges we on the spectrum face in public environments, and give both charities and professionals more insight into how best they can provide support to those who are affected.

What is a shopping experience like for you?

It was a daunting experience during my early childhood because my parents and I had no idea that I was autistic, so I was always classed as an unruly child with my tantrums and screaming in the middle of a supermarket. Things, I’m glad to say, have significantly improved, and I am becoming more confident when going into large supermarkets. However, I still tend to experience anxiety and heart palpitations when going into large buildings, but I find that being alongside someone I know and trust helps combat this and improves my overall confidence. 

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? 

Honestly? No I haven't. I tend to find that I am the one who has to explain my issues to another person, whether this be a neighbour, shop worker or colleague. This is why it’s vitally important that charities and professionals continue to work with each other to raise awareness of autism to the public, because the more people who understand, the better chance that those on the spectrum will have at living better lives with less stress.

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

I think there a number of ways shops could improve the shopping experience from an autistic person's perspective. Lowering background music for starters would be really beneficial for those like myself who are sensitive to sound, as I find certain sounds really painful. I also tend to find having someone I know and trust alongside me when shopping helps calm my nerves, as well as having a timetable of when and where I am going shopping and what I need to buy.

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