Written by Sarah Hendrickx

In The News

Quiet please, I’m trying to find the biscuits

Supermarkets can be an overwhelming sensory experience for those with autism. One store manager has come up with a neat idea to help and Sarah Hendrickx can’t stop clapping (quietly).

shopping trolley with loud backgroundAll hail Simon Lea, store manager at Cheetham Hill’s Asda, who is establishing a regular ‘quiet hour’ in his store after witnessing an autistic child struggle to cope while in the shop.

During this hour, TVs, escalators and music will be switched off to create a more calming and gentle experience, not just for autistic people, but for anyone with anxiety or any other need for a quieter shop. As a person who is both autistic and hates shopping, I think this is a blooming wonderful idea, which I hope is adopted more widely because I live a long way from Manchester and it’s a bugger of a journey for a pint of milk.

Shops are extremely overwhelming and exhausting for some of us regardless of disability or need. It’s a full on sensory tsunami in there: lights, product displays, air con, people, music, noise and smells. Woah! Way too much, and don’t even think about asking me if I want a credit card or a hot cross bun sample in April because you need to shift a glut. Speech while shopping is often way beyond me.

“I know many people who do their shopping in the middle of the night or buried in headphones and dark glasses in order to muffle the onslaught of the shopping experience.”

Have you ever seen a loaded trolley abandoned in the middle of the aisle, full of the recommended daily nutritional needs of a human (excluding the ice cream and gin), its owner vanished without trace and destined to eat the weird stuff at the back of the cupboard until she can face returning to the vortex of hell that is the self-scanning checkout? Out of date custard powder and Marmite for tea, anyone? That’s me – or someone who in that moment felt the same as me.

Maybe it’s you, too. I know many people who do their shopping in the middle of the night or buried in headphones and dark glasses in order to muffle the onslaught of the shopping experience, steeling themselves for the anxiety and stress that such a seemingly simple task will involves. Often, we’ll settle for the expensive corner shop because anything bigger is just unmanageable.

This quiet hour will not remove all of the stresses of the food buying experience, like why do they bloody move things and why aren’t things in sensible places to start with? (Why is the couscous near the lentils and not near the rice?) And while you’re at it, can I have a map, please?

But what it will do is reduce the load on those whose capacity is limited and thus hopefully make shopping a bit more possible and therefore more affordable. And maybe even healthier if you can remain in there longer than the time it takes to grab seven pizzas and run.

It makes me wonder if anyone really enjoys the onslaught of noise and chaos that accompanies the tedious task of filling up the cupboards, accompanied by the constant sense of déjà vu and the existential knowledge that we’ll be back next week to do it all over again.

It seems to me that ‘quiet hour’ could be turned into ‘quiet all the time’ for shopping. Let’s switch it all off for good and bond silently over the broccoli, while pondering our existence. Then again, perhaps a little muzak might help to drown the gentle sounds of our sobbing.

The first quiet hour at Cheetham Hill Asda is on Saturday 7 May at 8am.


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Written by Sarah Hendrickx

Sarah Hendrickx is a writer, author, autism specialist and occasional standup comedian. She lives part-time in rural Portugal where she tries to make friends with geckos and grows broad beans. Her book about moving overseas, How to Leave the Country is available on Kindle/e-book. She blogs at www.bicyclesandbiscuits.com.