James Sinclair headshot and quoteWe chat to the unapologetically autistic blogger and autism advocate James Sinclair. James opens up about his struggles with sensory overload during shopping trips, the pressures of bag packing, and tells us why he's taking part in Autism Hour.  

Why is Autism Hour important to you? 

The National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour is important to me as it reminds me how big a difference small changes can make to an entire community. It gives autistic people who may otherwise be unable to leave the house the opportunity to experience the joys of daily tasks, which many take for granted, and it gives families with autistic members the chance to take part in these activities, unburdened by the possibility that they will be judged as a bad parent if something they could not predict happens and the autistic person becomes distressed.

It’s a cheesy answer, but Autism Hour gives me a glimpse into how much better things would be if autism awareness was not something we raised but something we had.

What is a shopping experience like for you?

For me, shopping experiences are almost entirely online as crowded spaces and loud environments often leave me feeling incredibly uncomfortable. Even when I reach a till, I don’t feel relieved that the experience is almost over, as the pressure of packing bags feels like a race with the cashier that I always lose.

Despite this, the thing I find most frustrating about any shopping venture isn’t how deflated I feel afterwards but an annoyance at the fact that I let these feelings ruin something which I otherwise have the potential to really enjoy.

Have you ever experienced a time when a member of staff/shop has made an effort to be understanding of autism or a sensory issues? 
Whilst no memory comes to mind when I consider a time a staff member made an effort to understand my autism, I asked my mum the same question and she gave a great answer:

‘In Tesco. You were about 7/8. You were having a meltdown in the queue for the till. I explained that you were autistic and the assistant said “yes, I know”. She must have had some experience. She called a colleague over. Told me to leave the shopping and take you for a walk or whatever you needed. They put the shopping through and bagged it all up for me at customer services, then came to get me. I went back in to pay and then they took the shopping to the car for me’. – What a legend!

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

Although I can think of a million ways in which stores could make shopping a better experience for myself and other autistic people. Shopping is a universal activity and I know that if I said I would want all music to be capped at a certain volume and that I would prefer places to limit the amount of people they have by at least 50% of what it is now, this could ruin the experience for other people.

This is why I love that a growing number of places are taking part in Autism Hour, be it during the October event or those who go the extra mile by making it a monthly or even weekly event. Autism Hour gives autistic people a chance to shop in a way specific to us and, while this may not be ideal for everyone, the reality is that if you don’t like the changes then wait 60 minutes and things will go back to normal. It’s a win/win!

 

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