We caught up with Samantha Tomlin, one of our Parent Champions and a model, actress, and mother to 13-year-old Henry, who is autistic.

Henry was diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder at the age of five, before receiving his autism diagnosis when he was eight. Everyday experiences and interactions can cause a great deal of anxiety for Henry, who is particularly sensitive to bright lights, loud noises, and certain smells and textures.

Samantha discusses with us the impact that activities like shopping can have on her son, and offers advice on how staff can make small adjustments to help reduce the sensory overload for autistic people.

Why is Autism Hour important to you and your child?

It gives a specific time and some places where we know everyone will be prepared to deal with and be sensitive to sensory issues affecting those on the spectrum. It also allows parents and carers to feel more confident on an outing that could normally be a very stressful time for all.

What is a shopping experience like for you/your child?

Our shopping experiences have changed over the years from when Henry was little where he would be petrified of the lights and music and tannoy systems going off.

He would hide in his buggy or pull his hood up. We’ve worked on it together going for short periods of time for specific things and always a trip on the escalators or lifts ending with a drink or a bite to eat to make a routine. He’s now happy to go to the shops as it’s not so scary now he’s taller and able to see above the clothes rails and he knows the lights are brighter in some shops we go to. 

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?

Autism Hour is the only time the staff have specifically considered we might not want to be rushed through the tills or have loud music playing but you always get kind people that smile or comment that Henry loves the escalators as people become more aware of ASD. You don’t always need training just be patient and kind.

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

Turning down the music and quieter announcements on the tannoy systems with a till where you can take your time with packing and paying.

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