Major Retailers Take Steps To Accommodate Children With Autism

Autistic boy playing with toy cars
Autistic boy playing with toy cars

A recent government suggests that one in 45 children ages three to 17 have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As the disorder continues to become increasingly more common, more businesses are taking steps to accommodate children and teenagers who have it.

One of the most common traits for autism is a sensitivity smells, noise, light and color. To help downplay this, Toys R Us has tested out “sensory friendly” shopping periods with dimmed lights and loud music turned off. In the United Kingdom, several branches of Tesco grocery stores have experimented with a “quiet hour” once per week. AMC Theatres have been offering “sensory-friendly” films since 2008, in which patrons are allowed to wander the theater and the film’s sound is turned down while lights remain on.

“It’s the equivalent of building wheelchair ramps or accessible bathrooms, except it’s for cognitive disabilities, rather than physical disabilities,” said autism expert Steve Silberman to STAT News.

Many of these events are often done in conjunction with a local or national autism organization. Autism Society members staffed tables and passed out literature on autism during several of the Toys R Us quiet hours. In Myrtle Beach, S.C., the Champion Autism Network (CAN) teamed up with the operators of a local ferris wheel for an afternoon outing on the ride.

“It’s all about trying to have families have a normal family experience, whether that’s grocery shopping, a meal at a restaurant, or a movie,” said CAN executive director Becky Large. “That would be wonderful.”