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Retailers Rethink the Holiday Shopping Experience for Customers with Autism

Customers with Autism

This Sunday, the Holyoke Mall in Massachusetts will open two hours earlier at 8 AM. The most management won't turn on the overhead music, as it usually does and the team will set up an area with comfortable seating and coloring materials for shoppers can decompress.

The 2-hour event is designed to carve out space for adults and children with autism spectrum disorder and their families to do their holiday shopping. Navigating packed parking lots and stores can be a stressful experience for anyone at this time a year but it is overwhelming for people with autism, many of whom are hypersensitive to stimuli that others can tune out. The normal fun events of holiday shopping or visiting Santa are milestones that a family affected by autism might not try or participate in. With some forethought, retailers and shopping centers can make the experience much more inclusive.

The Holyoke Mall has been holding sensory friendly shopping events at least three times a year since 2014. The shopping center works with Autism Speaks from all visits designed for children with autism. Major retailers with store fleets across the country I've also taken to the idea of offering hours tailored to people with autism spectrum disorder, though largely on a local level. JCPenney in Dallas participated for back-to-school and earlier this month, a target in Lancaster Pennsylvania opened early for quiet shopping hours. Some Chuck E. Cheese’s have begun to hold Sensory Sensitive Sundaes once a month. A Costco in East Peoria, Illinois created a quiet shopping experience from eight to 9:30 AM. Toys "R" Us set aside time for sensory friendly shopping hours in 2014.

As small and store events go, accommodations for quiet shopping hours are relatively simple to execute. Most of it depends on subtracting input, like turning off the music, dimming lights, and asking stores to have their employees gently direct customers rather than using the loudspeaker for announcements. A spokesperson for Autism Speaks states that businesses that invest in being autism friendly pays off as those families are very brand loyal and will forever support that business. Target has gone out of their way when they see an individual with autism and they get edgy in line to check out. They will open up a new Lane to accommodate his inability to wait. When their programs that let people come into a normal environment that has adjusted and is cognizant of their comfort zone it is not only amazing for the individual but for the entire family of that individual.

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