5 ways to make your retail store more autism-friendly
Living with autism can make things difficult, which is why Charles Clinkard have been offering support to families affected by the condition for many years now. Their autism awareness campaign intends to inspire retail companies everywhere to do the same. Here, Rachel Clinkard from Charles Clinkard shares her tips for making your stores more inclusive for autistic children
Autism is a developmental condition that affects 700,00 people in the UK — take into account their families and a staggering 2.8 million people are directly and indirectly dealing with the condition everyday (National Autistic Society) so it’s important that we are all aware of how to make our stores more welcoming to little ones overwhelmed by their diagnosis.
Each child on the autistic spectrum is unique, which means that no two people will present the same symptoms in the same way. However, many people with the condition will find it affects their social interaction, communication and behaviour. Here, I’ll be sharing my tips to help you make your store more inclusive for children with autism.
Adapt your store environment
The National Autistic Society have begun a campaign for autism-friendly shopping hours to encourage retailers to make a quieter store time, but if you already do this and want to make more lasting changes, you’ll need to adjust your store environment.
One of the most common symptoms of ASD is intense sensitivity to sound, which can often become painful for them to hear. That’s not to say that you have to get rid of your cheerful store music and TVs altogether, but you may want to rethink the volume they’re playing at. Softer sounds will be more welcoming and help to settle autistic children easier.
Individuals with autism may also struggle with fluorescent or harsh lighting, with many reporting that they can see these lights flickering or hear them making a humming noise which distracts them and can make them unsettled. Dimming your store lighting and reducing the number of screens you have on in store can help to make a world of difference.
Train your staff
After adapting your store, it’s important that every member of staff knows why you’ve made the changes you have internally. They should all be trained and up to speed with what autism is, as well as some of the common symptoms — just make sure they’re aware that these can differ significantly between each child. As the first faces they’ll see within your shop, it’s important that your workers understand the condition properly and are able to adjust their service if they spot a child with autism struggling to feel settled.
Offer a personalised service
People living with autism can be very sensitive to touch which makes it difficult for them to accept help when trying on clothes and shoes, so offering a bespoke service where you’ve been briefed on the child’s autistic symptoms can help them to feel more comfortable. I would suggest encouraging parents to contact you ahead of their visit and let you know of any special requirements that the child may need and making sure these are in place by the time they arrive. You could then file these requirements away for their next visit.
It can also be a big help if you provide parents with a video or imagery of the store so that they can show their child what to expect. For example, if they’re coming for a shoe fitting, create a short video of the process so the child isn’t overwhelmed by it all when the time comes to get measured.
Provide sensory packs
To help your little visitors with ASD feel more settled during their visit, I recommend providing sensory packs to help preoccupy their minds and soothe them when they’re feeling stressed. These packs can include toys and resources that engage their senses in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them.
For example, fidget toys can improve concentration and focus in autistic children who find it hard to sit still. Similarly, things they can safely chew or that are made up of interesting colours can help to make them feel more comfortable in your retail store. Plus, their parents are sure to appreciate it if they are bringing more than one child along.
Educate your customers
Inclusivity means doing everything you can to help autistic children to feel as comfortable as possible, and that should include educating your other customers about autism and showing them how they can help. Putting up signage in the window or having leaflets at cash desks can help your customers familiarise themselves with the changes you’ve made to your store and why.
Letting them know about things that can overwhelm children with autism, such as loud noises, can help them to monitor their own behaviour and adjust to make those with ASD feel comfortable.
Autism can be a difficult condition to live with, but you can help to make the challenges it brings a little easier to deal with by adapting your store.
If you need help looking for services for an individual with an autism spectrum condition, we can help. Click below for the Autism Placement Support Service.