A SCOTTISH charity has for the first time launched an initiative with one of the country’s biggest shopping centres, into Braehead, to make the malls more autism-friendly.
Staff at intu Braehead have been given specialist training by Scottish Autism to make life more comfortable for people with autism.
And tomorrow, Tuesday, June 14, between 10am and 11am, a trial Quiet Hour has been introduced in the malls to reduce potential stress for shoppers with the condition.
Retailers are participating by turning off music and any flashing lights to create a quieter and calmer atmosphere in the centre and make the environment less overwhelming for people with autism.
During the training sessions staff have been shown videos and carry out activities that give them a better understanding of the challenges facing people with autism and how they can give support during a visit to intu Braehead.
Jeanie Macfarlane, senior autism advisor for Scottish Autism, explains: “Many people with autism report difficulties with what we call the sensory aspects of shopping centres – things like the smells, touch, sounds, hustle and bustle and the way things look.
“They may be highly sensitive to the information their senses are picking up which can lead to overwhelming and confusing experiences and ultimately avoidance of such situations.
“As autism affects the way a person relates to other people and communicates with them, they may also find the sheer quantity of people in a shopping centre difficult and stressful.
“They are also likely to feel challenged by having to speak to shop assistants or other people, even if they need help.”
Jeanie continued: “However, what we are doing with intu Braehead can make a visit to the mall a more positive and enjoyable experience.
“Providing staff with training can really help people with autism feel included and supported as well as raising the profile of autism in general.
“This is a really exciting partnership for us and the first of its kind for Scottish Autism.
“Management at intu Braehead should be given credit for joining us in this initiative. Staff there have really engaged with the training and the feedback from our evaluations has been extremely positive.
“They are now able to understand the shopping experience for people with autism and give them better support.”
Community development manager, Lydia Brown said: “We aim to make intu Braehead a place where everyone feels welcome, relaxed and comfortable when they visit us.
“Going to a busy shopping centre may be a normal activity that most visitors enjoy and take for granted, but for people with autism that may not necessarily be the case.
“We want to make sure that everyone gets the same pleasure from coming to intu Braehead and the centre is as autism-friendly as we can make it.”
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