In Brief

Asda to hold 'quiet hour' for autistic shoppers

In-store music and escalators to be switched off for customers who want a calmer experience

An Asda supermarket is to introduce a special "quiet hour" to enable customers with autism to browse the shelves in a less stressful environment.

For 60 minutes, noise within the store will be kept to a minimum, with escalators, TV screens and music switched off to reduce the risk of sensory overload. Customers will also be able to request a store layout map using pictures in place of words.

It will be trialled at the Asda Living store in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, as a result of an idea from manager Simon Lea, who recounted an incident he had witnessed in which a young boy became overwhelmed as his mother tried to complete her shop.

"This boy was playing absolute blue murder, kicking and screaming," Lea told the Manchester Evening News. "His mum just looked drained. She told me he suffers from autism. He was having a meltdown."Lea gave the youngster a football, which appeared to calm him down, but the encounter weighed on his mind and he began to think of ways in which shopping could be made a less stressful experience for customers with autism and other mental health issues.

"Six months ago, I would have said, 'Control your child', even though I've got children," he said. "But speaking to people with autism and disabled people has helped me think about how I can make it a better place to shop."

The first quiet hour will take place at 8am on Saturday 7 May. Staff will come in at 6am to prepare for the special period, during which Lea says "you will be able to hear a pin drop".The move has met with a positive response from autistic people and their families. One mother and awareness campaigner tweeted that the effort to accommodate special needs would "change lives".

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