Why grocery shopping is about to get easier for people with autism

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 Photo: Shutterstock

With the bright lights, loud music and crowded aisles, it is not surprising grocery shopping can be a stressful experience for people with autism. 

With that in mind, Coles is trialling a specially created shopping experience aimed at preventing anyone with sensory issues becoming overwhelmed in their stores. 

The Quiet Hour initiative will be rolled out in two Victorian stores this week and continue every Tuesday from 10.30am to 11.30am until the end of October.

During the specified times, the stores will:

  • reduce Coles radio to its lowest volume
  • dim the lights by 50 per cent
  • turn down register and scanner volumes to the lowest level
  • remove roll cages from shop floors
  • avoid trolley collections
  • avoid PA announcements, except in emergencies
  • offer free fruit at customer service desks
  • have trained team members available to help customers

Customers at Ringwood and Balwyn East Coles stores will also be able to prepare for their visit by downloading the free Coles app, which allows users to create shopping lists, and use the product finder to find what they need in their local store.

"We are always looking at ways we can meet the differing needs of our customers by creating a shopping environment in which our customers and team members feel comfortable," Coles accessibility sponsor Peter Sheean said.

"Through Quiet Hour, we hope to make a difference to our customers who find it challenging to shop in a heightened sensory environment."

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Team members have been trained to increase their understanding of sensory overload and how to best respond to customers' requirements.

Although the stores will be adapted specifically for people on the autism spectrum and their families, anyone who would benefit from shopping in the tailored environment is welcome in the stores during Quiet Hour.

Coles has worked on the initiative in conjunction with autism support organisation Aspect. 

Parents of children with autism welcomed the news and shared experiences of having to leave supermarkets when their child is feeling overwhelmed by the environment.

"This is such a good idea. We struggle in Coles, much more than Woolies. Our Coles is considerably brighter and noisier with narrow aisles," one mum wrote on the Aspect Facebook page.

Others called for the trial to be rolled out at other stores and at times that suited school aged children and full time workers.