A young boy recently visited my shop and, whilst outside, asked his mum what my ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) friendly sign meant. She explained a little, but encouraged him to come inside and ask me more about it. After an amazing conversation, he ended it by saying he was going to talk to a boy in his class who was on the spectrum. He had wanted to for ages, but worried he wouldn't 'get it right'.
After this conversation, and seeing the great response to my Facebook post about it, I felt inspired to write about why more shops should be ASD Friendly.
Letting people know you're ASD Friendly
It just takes a moment to reflect on how this simple message can make a massive difference. I can see Mums, Dads and Grandparents give a sigh of relief when they can see that the shop is a welcoming, non-judgemental space. Some families tell me that, due to other parents' comments, they are losing confidence in going out in public, and have started to resent socialising.
Surely we should feel ashamed that as a society we are not trying to help and understand?
If a parent comes in and lets me know that their child is overwhelmed by everything, I will always ask if turning the lights and music down (or off) will help. Unsurprisingly, I have never had any other parents complain if I do that! I will often say, "I'm just turning the lights out to let this young boy/girl see our Light Up Bubble Tower". Usually, all the other children in the shop want to see as well! It also helps that this is a great calming sensory item, as kids can watch as the brightly coloured plastic fish inside float around. As a specialist in sensory toys, I can also put a few spinning toys on the floor and watch them do their magic!
How you can be ASD Friendly
Even though more than 1 in 100 children across the UK has autism, many of these families struggle to access local shops, businesses and even community spaces. Making your business ASD friendly doesn't mean spending hundreds or thousands on alterations or holding day-long training events to ensure your staff are autism experts.
Small changes, and a little understanding, can go a very long way to helping your ASD customers!
Your Businesses Environment
As I mentioned before, bright lights and loud noises may trigger a sensory overload for those with ASD. Consider whether you need every light on, or the radio on that loud. If you're a smaller business, signage stating you will turn down either if needed goes a long way to make families feel more comfortable.
Additionally, the National Autistic Society has created a campaign for autism-friendly shopping hours - reducing the crowds and the previous issues of noise and light. If you are able to, this change will have a huge impact.
A quick chat with your staff is all you need here. Make sure that they are aware what autism is and what the most common symptoms can be. I say 'can be', as this can vary pretty significantly between each child. A child having a sensory overload can appear very much like one acting like they haven't got what they wanted whilst out shopping. As the face of your business, having understanding staff willing to help out goes a very long way.
Provide Sensory Toys/Items
To help children with ASD feel more settled during their visit to your business or shop, you can provide a range of sensory items or even a sensory pack! This can include toys that calm, soothe and occupy fidgety hands.
Children with ASD often find it difficult to sit still for long periods of time. Fidget toys, sensory spinners or engaging sound items are a great way to help to occupy children. If you own a business where families often browse for a little while, a sensory pack is a great way to support those with ASD.
If you'd like to find out the best sensory toys or items for your business, check out our latest range here. For more information on being ASD friendly or to find out which sensory items are best for you, please get in touch with us!