Hundreds of thousands of people living with autism stand to enjoy an improved shopping experience in the autumn with 'autism hours' taking place across the country.

A week long campaign being led by the National Autistic Society will see the UK's busiest shopping centres and retailers turn down their lights and music to create an environment less likely to overwhelm people prone to sensory overload. 

The Trafford Centre in Manchester and Lakeside in Essex will lead the way and famous superstores such as Toys R Us and highstreet names Lloyds Banking Group and Clarks have also signed up.

"Predictability in public spaces is not always guaranteed."

A survey by The National Autistic Society suggests 64% of autistic people avoid going to the shops and 28% have been asked to leave a public place for reasons associated with their autism.

The charity is asking shops and services to take simple steps for one hour to help create a more autism friendly world - from dimming the lights and turning down music to sharing information about autism with employees.

More than 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum: seeing, hearing and feeling the world in a different, often more intense way to other people.

'Spread understanding'

Mark Lever, Chief Executive at the National Autistic Society, said: “We hope that the hour will provide a break for families in the week and in the long term will help spread understanding so that shops and services are more accessible every day of the year."

Matt Davis, father to Isaac, aged 9, who is autistic, said: “Noise, lighting and crowds are all triggers for Isaac so either we avoid shops altogether or we have to put in a great deal of preparation to ensure Isaac doesn’t become overwhelmed."

"Unfortunately, my wife and I find that the stress doesn’t stop with having to pay close attention to Isaac’s sensory overloads, we also have to take into account the public’s perception of Isaac’s behaviour and that can be difficult."

'Making life easier'

“In recent years, we have seen an improvement in Isaac’s ability to go to public spaces but we have to make sure it is familiar, it has a quiet area, the lighting is not overwhelming and it is not overcrowded."

"As you can imagine, predictability in public spaces is not always guaranteed so we still experience many meltdowns. The idea of having specific ‘Autism Hours’ where the triggers of sensory overloads are reduced would make life so much easier and would allow Isaac to prepare effectively.”

To find our more information about the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour, please visit: