Samantha and her son Henry

A model and follower of fashion, Samantha Tomlin is mum to Henry, who is autistic. Here, we learn about the challenges they both have to overcome every day and how she believes things could be made easier…

Your son is autistic – is there anything he struggles with day to day?

Henry’s main struggles are sensory issues and he doesn’t like to be touched. He spent many years living in fear that he would be bumped into and the anxiety this caused him was very distressing to him and everyone that loves him. Henry used to compare being touched lightly as experiencing a burning sensation; strong sounds, smells and lights also cause him anxiety.

What would the general public not know about the difficulties of shopping when you have your son with you?

Everything others see as making the shopping experience more enjoyable, Henry struggles with. Music in shops, different levels of lighting and bright adverts everywhere can trigger his anxiety.

Is there anything you think would make the experience better for him?

I loved the idea of the National Autistic Society’s Too Much Information campaign and Autism Hour, where they suggested that simply turning the music down and training retail staff can make all the difference. The main thing is compassion and understanding from others; none of us know what’s going on in other people’s lives and a crying child or a parent or carer that looks panicked doesn’t need to be stared at or judged.

What are your tips for those who want to support autistic people in a shopping environment?

Sometimes just a smile and a quick ‘Can I help?’ can make all the difference. Some carers may just feel lonely, as it can be isolating when your child can find day to day tasks so difficult, so anything that will make things a little easier will help the carer as much as the autistic person and will lessen anxiety all round. Just go about your business as usual and be aware that we aren’t all the same and kindness and understanding costs nothing.

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