'I'm in tears': Coles idea that could change how we shop
A MUM has posted an emotional thankyou to Coles for a new initiative designed to make shopping easier for people with autism.
The supermarket began its "Quiet Hour" pilot program at the Ringwood and Balwyn East Coles stores in Victoria on Tuesday.
As part of the sensory-friendly experience, designed in partnership with Autism Spectrum Australia, changes include lowering Coles Radio to the lowest volume, dimming the lights by 50 per cent, turning down register and scanner volumes to the lowest level, removing roll cages from the shop floor, avoiding PA announcements and offering free fruit at customer service.
Ms Dive, posting on Coles Facebook page, described the shopping experience with her son Lachlan at the Ringwood store as "a milestone". "Today I walked out of our local Coles with my son, and a trolley full of groceries," she wrote.
"We spent 40 minutes in the store, casually walking up and down each aisle selecting the items that we needed. The entire time we were in there, I was fighting back the tears. Today was a milestone for us. We filled a trolley!
"No mad dash to get in and out as quickly as possible only grabbing a handful of items. Lachlan was provided with such a positive experience in an environment that is challenging."
She said that normally her son would be "crawling under shelves, running out of the store, screaming, running and yelling" on visits to the supermarket, behaviours that were his way of saying "I can't cope".
"Today, these were obsolete," Ms Dive wrote. "Today we walked side-by-side for the entire shopping trip, and the hardest challenge he faced was to make a decision about choosing Grain Waves or Tiny Teddies.
"Kudos to you, Coles for your quiet hour today, and acknowledging your environment for people entering your store can be a sensory landmine for many to navigate."
She said once they left the store, her son was "hit with the rest of the shopping complex's sounds, lights, smells and people" and went "off like a shot" into another quiet store.
"In tears, I left," she wrote. "Passing the manager on the way out commending the efforts of everyone on providing a space that many don't think twice about having to walk into.
"We are so lucky to have our local store as a pilot for such a great initiative. Please know that your acknowledgment of those who require the simplest of changes to environments to assist in making them more comfortable, is respected and appreciated. Thank you!"
Ms Dive's post has been shared nearly 200 times and attracted more than 170 comments.
"So happy to read this," wrote Mandy Southwell. "I have terrible memories of trying to shop for basics when my son was young, let alone the four hours pacing the house before I would leave home talking myself in and out of going. Well done, Coles."
Anne Wells described it as a "fabulous idea". "Well done to Coles," she wrote. "What a blessing for parents and their children to shop in comfort together."
Coles accessibility sponsor Peter Sheean said the supermarket was "really pleased with the positive response from the community to the first Quiet Hour session".
"Our store teams at Ringwood and Balwyn East are enthusiastic about the trial and customers have provided wonderful feedback to them, and have also taken to social media to let us know what they think," he said.
"It's fantastic to hear that the small changes we made in store to help reduce noise and distractions have helped to make a difference to the shopping experience for our customers who find it challenging to shop in a heightened sensory environment.
"Quiet Hour will continue on each Tuesday for the next 11 weeks and we will be looking at the results and feedback to determine the next steps."
The pilot program, which runs every Tuesday until the end of October, was born out of a study conducted by Aspect earlier this year which asked people on the autism spectrum and their families about their shopping habits.
The study found that Tuesday morning was one of the most common times to shop for people on the autism spectrum, their parents or carers. Bright lighting was found to be the most common cause of difficulty in supermarket shopping, while music, register beeps and queuing were also mentioned.
"We have invested in training for team members to increase their understanding of sensory overload and how to best respond to customer needs," Autism Spectrum Australia spokeswoman Linzi Coyle said in a statement.
"Although we have modified some of the physical and sensory stimulators in store, we also hope to achieve a 'no-judgment' shopping space for people and families on the spectrum, where customers will feel comfortable and welcome."
Coles said the Quiet Hour was not limited to people on the spectrum and anyone who may benefit from the experience was encouraged to come along.