Shopping can be an overwhelming experience for many, so are proposals for a ‘quiet hour’ a welcome idea? Our guest community author Caroline Pritchard gives her experience…
I have autism and also melophobia – a fear of music – which means shopping can be a difficult experience, and one I often try to avoid.
So the news that Morrisons will be introducing a ‘quiet hour’ in stores – where they’ll turn music and radios off, dim the lights, keep other noises down and inform shoppers it’s the quiet hour – came as a great relief to me.
It’s common to think people with autism or Asperger’s don’t ‘feel’ as much – and we can come across as unfeeling – but it’s actually more a case that we feel more, and we’re overwhelmed by those feelings.
So, the experience of shopping, in supermarkets and other shops, can often be a real sensory overload for people with autism – all the music, noises, people and visual busyness.
And that can lead to anxiety – you just want to get around the shop as quickly as possible and leave. That means we’re really very disadvantaged as consumers.
Autism and shopping
If you’re feeling anxious, you’re not going to actually compare items properly and make a good decision.
Instead, you end up buying the product you’ve always bought – or worse still, the one with a big bright ‘special offer’ sign on it.
It puts you under pressure to make quick decisions – and maybe you’ll make the wrong one: you’ll just grab the first one you see and run. That’s a common experience.
A ‘quiet hour’ would essentially give me and others a bit of breathing space when shopping – the time and space to make the right decisions.
And it might mean I can actually enjoy the experience as well – something all shoppers should be entitled to.
For the time being, without ‘quiet hours’, many autistic consumers, myself included, do a lot of their shopping online. But there are drawbacks.
You don’t get the same special offers, you don’t get the face to face interaction and you don’t get the same personal service.
The thing for me is, I love perfumes, and i’m very fussy about them. I like to break down all the notes in a perfume and compare them.
But buying perfume and other luxury products online isn’t the same as doing it in person. If you order a Jo Malone bubble bath online, for example, it’s just not the same as going into the store, comparing them, getting it wrapped in the paper and in the bag.
You miss out on that experience, but you shouldn’t have to. A quiet hour would make shops, generally, more accessible to autistic shoppers.
My son is autistic as well and as a parent with autistic children, you always have that worry in the back of your mind that they might have a panic attack or a bit of a ‘meltdown’ in shops.
Autism is a hidden disability, so if your kids have a meltdown in a shop, people don’t know the context and you get looked at as if you can’t ‘control’ your children.
Like all parents, you’re also restricted as to when you can shop. I noticed the Morrison’s plan was from 9.00-10.00AM on Saturdays, it would be better if they were more flexible with this.
Still, a ‘quiet hour’ could be wonderful for all sorts of people. For example, my mother who is hard of hearing. Shopping with any kind of mental disability can be hard as well. And this will surely help.
My main hope is that more shops roll out the idea, as the National Autistic Society is campaigning for.
This is a guest post by Caroline Pritchard. All views expressed are Caroline’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.
Do you think a quiet hour in shops is a good idea? Do you have autism and find shopping overwhelming? What shops would you like to see introduce a quiet hour?