Michael McEwan: How society is starting to adapt itself to the needs of autistic people

CommonSpace columnist and chairperson of his local disability group, Michael McEwan looks at how businesses and organisations are starting to adapt their environment to the needs of the autistic community

WE ALL love going to the cinema, theatre or shopping, but for people who have autism a simple day out can mean sensory overload.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people , and how they experience the world around them.

About 700,000 people in the UK (more than one in 100) are on the autism spectrum.

Autism does not just affect children, they grow up to be autistic adults.

READ MORE: Michael McEwan – Well done to the Scottish theatres embracing autism and dementia-friendly acts

People may be under-sensitive or over-sensitive to sounds, find social situations a challenge, and experience a "meltdown" if overwhelmed.

Morrison's supermarket chain has introduced a weekly "quieter hour" for shoppers who have autism struggling to cope with music and noise in their surroundings.

It's 439 UK stores will dim light, turn music off, avoid tannoy and turn checkout beeps down every Saturday morning from 9.00-10:00am.

It is believed to be the first supermarket chain to roll out the scheme to all stores nationwide.  

READ MORE: New online programme launched to support women and girls on autism spectrum

Tesco said it was not initially planning on rolling out the initiative nationwide, but other store managers nationally have welcomed it as one store in Alloa, Clackmannanshire, did last year.  

Sainsbury's more than 600 stores took part in the National Autistic Society's autism hour in October last year and will be doing so again this year.  

Asides from supermarkets taking part Glasgow Fort shopping centre has a quiet hour each Sunday from 10-11am, Braehead shopping centre on a Saturday morning from 10-11am, also Silverburn and Buchanan Galleries are looking at introducing a quiet hour.

The Glasgow Film Theatre together with the National Autistic Society is providing an Access Film Club, which includes a film screening and a post-film chat in a friendly and welcoming environment.

READ MORE: Dundee women to spend 50 hours locked in glass box to raise awareness of autism

The club is designed to engage with people aged 15+ who welcome a relaxed cinema environment for people who have autism, Asperger syndrome, learning disabilities and/or process information differently, to provide a relaxed environment is the best way to enjoy the film.

Every month a film is chosen in response to a theme set by the National Autistic Society Scotland.  The Access film club takes place on the second Tuesday of every month.

The King's Theatre in Glasgow annual panto has a relaxed performance aiming to make the show accessible to those with autism , learning disability or other sensory and communication needs.  At the performance there are reduced sounds, lower lights and an opportunity to learn about the show ahead of time promises to make the show more accessible to those who find regular performances overwhelming.

Most importantly the theatre will promote a non-judgmental environment.  Audience members are free to move around and can used the designated chill out areas for relax times.

Picture courtesy of J Mark Dodds

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