A trip to the supermarket can be a taxing ordeal for a person on the autistic spectrum.


Coles devotes a quiet hour a day to people with autism

If you are the carer of a person on the autism spectrum, you know what a taxing ordeal a simple trip to the supermarket can turn into.

That is why there is so much excitement – and gratitude – that supermarket giant Coles has made an effort to address the issue.

A couple of select Coles supermarkets are trialling a ‘sensory-friendly quiet hour’ designed to enable people on the autism spectrum and their carers to go to the shops in a quieter, stress-free environment at a nominated daily hour.

For working carers (and workers in general) it would be great of Coles would consider an additional ‘sensory-friendly quiet hour’ on a Sunday afternoon as that would fit in better with a work schedule.

Coles has partnered with Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) to deliver the pilot program, initially at two Victorian stores in Ringwood and Balwyn East. It will run until the end of October and all shoppers are welcome during the time.

If you are as excited by this initiative as we are, please let Coles know via customer feedback at your local Coles store. They deserve some praise and hopefully it will encourage them to roll out the program more widely.

During ‘quiet hour’ the store's radio will be turned down to its lowest level, and the lights will be dimmed by 50 per cent.

Register and scanner volumes will be turned down to their lowest level, roll cages will be off the shop floor, trolley collections will stop, and PA announcements will be avoided – except for emergencies.

We think most people would welcome these changes whether or not they have autism, or care for a person on the autism spectrum. It sounds like a wonderful general improvement for everyone’s shopping experience!

The Coles’ initiative follows a study conducted on the shopping habits of people on the autism spectrum and their families.

“We have invested in training for team members to increase their understanding of sensory overload and how to best respond to customer needs,” Linzi Coyle, Aspect Community Engagement and Operations spokesperson said.

“We also hope to achieve a ‘no-judgement’ shopping space for people and families on the spectrum, where customers will feel comfortable and welcome.”

So far, the initiative has been highly praised, especially by a mother named Emily Dive who posted on the supermarket's Facebook page.

“Today I walked out of our local Coles with my son, and a trolley full of groceries. We spent 40 mins in the store, casually walking up and down each aisle selecting the items that we needed. The entire time we were in there, I was fighting back the tears. Today was a milestone for us.

“We filled a trolley!!! No mad dash to get in and out as quickly as possible only grabbing a handful of items. Lachlan was provided with such a positive experience in an environment that is challenging.

“Crawling under shelves, running out of the store, screaming, running, and yelling are our ‘norm’ when we visit the supermarket. Behaviours that are his way of communicating ‘I can't cope’.

“Today, these were obsolete. Today, we walked side-by-side for the entire shopping trip, and the hardest challenge he faced was to make a decision about choosing grain waves or tiny teddies. “Kudos to you Coles for your quiet hour today, and acknowledging your environment for people entering your store can be a sensory land-mine for many to navigate.

“Once we reached the checkout, and Lachlan was hit with the rest of the shopping complex’s sounds, lights, smells and people, he was off like a shot into a quiet store he frequently visits adjacent to the supermarket, whilst I normally shop alone due to the chaos he faces when entering the store.

“In tears, I left, passing the manager on the way out commending the efforts of everyone on providing a space that many don't think twice about having to walk into. We are so lucky to have our local store as a pilot for such a great initiative. Please know that your acknowledgment of those who require the simplest of changes to environments to assist in making them more comfortable, is respected and appreciated. Thank you!”