Irishwoman's "quiet hour" for autistic shoppers enjoys UK success

Patricia O'Leary's concept was first introduced in Scally's SuperValu store in Clonakilty...

An Asda Living store in Manchester has reported that its "quiet hour" aimed at helping autistic and disabled shoppers was a huge success over the weekend.

So much so that they are making it a weekly event, with eight other outlets in the Manchester Fort shopping centre planning their own.

Asda opened its doors an hour early on Saturday morning and ensured the store was as silent as possible and offered a calming atmosphere for its first hour.

It is an idea that was first put forward by Clonakilty resident Patricia O’Leary, springing from her time studying autism at UCC.

O’Leary explained her thinking to Today FM's Juliette Gash today:

"Bright lights are very off-putting for people with autism and also the buzzing you get from lights. We wouldn't be aware of that, but people with autism will hear it. Music that we consider at a level where we can concentrate and go about our daily business is like being in a concert for someone with autism".

Thanks to O’Leary, Ireland – and particularly SuperValu – has been leading the way with the initiative.

Scally’s SuperValu in Clonakilty were the first adopters, coming on board last year.

Owner Eugene Scally told Gash that he had no hesitation in signing up when O’Leary approached him with the idea.

"We would be very much part of the SuperValu group, and being part of the SuperValu group is being local and understanding the needs of local people.

"So as the owner of the shop, I would always prioritise helping the customer with whatever needs or demands they may be".

 

The supermarket’s quiet period currently takes place every Tuesday between 7pm and 9pm.

"It's very simple really. All you have to do is make sure the music is off, turn down the lights and make sure that the phones aren't ringing or nobody goes shouting into the tannoy calling someone for the phone".

Scally has had a very positive response to the move.

"When we talk of autism we think of youngsters but there's adults as well that have the same problem.

"The adults have come back with more feedback [than the children] and they would say that they're delighted with it, that they had the pleasure to come into Scally's in SuperValu Clonakilty to do their shopping".

He says he himself has noticed the difference in the behaviour of autistic children who regularly visit with their mother, and that it has also benefited people with hearing aids and epilepsy.

There have been suggestions that the period be moved to Saturday afternoons between 2-4pm but Scally notes that the high numbers of customers could make it difficult for people with autism to "navigate their way around". Monday and Wednesday nights are also being looked at.

SuperValu stores elsewhere in the country have followed suit, with the initiative now running in SuperValu Monksland in Athlone, Supervalu Trim in Meath, Greystones in Wicklow, and Killiney and Sutton in Dublin.

Back in Clonakilty, O’Leary was also involved in making the West Cork town "autism friendly" to mark World Autism Day on April 2nd.

Jackie Flynn, whose 10-year-old is autistic, told Gash:

"It would be nice if we could just raise awareness so that people would understand that they're not bold kids, they're just kids that have extra needs".

SuperValu's parent group Musgrave is delighted with the roll-out and will support any stores who adopt the initiative.