For many of us, the lights and sounds of a grocery store simply become “background noise” as we shop.
But for children and adults on the autism spectrum, they can prove overwhelming, making these everyday activities extremely difficult, explains Ashley Baresinkoff, deli manager at the Safeway Extra store at Willowbrook.
As the mother of a child who is on the autism spectrum, it’s a situation Baresinkoff understands, so when she learned of a Sobey’s store in Nova Scotia offering a sensory-friendly shopping time to support families and individuals impacted by autism, it sparked an idea: Why not try something similar right here in Langley?
“When I do go shopping with my son, it’s a lot of stimulation, which for him is just overwhelming, and I know I’m not alone in this. I wanted to see if sensory-friendly shopping was something we could try here,” she says, crediting the store management team for their enthusiastic support.
The result was an introductory, hour-long event March 29 that met with great feedback from both staff and customers. Additional dates are planned for April 12 and 19 – coinciding with Autism Awareness Month – and May 3, 17 and 31, says store manager Albert Mutis.
“The customers responded really well,” he says.
Here’s what sensory-friendly shopping looks like:
- With the music and check-out scanners turned down, intercom turned off and shopping carts all gathered beforehand, noise at the store is minimized.
- Overhead lights are turned down and case lights turn off for a calmer environment.
- All phone calls come to the customer service desk and a team member acts as a runner to pass messages to store departments. As well, noisier equipment in various departments is turned off for the hour, such as the juicer in the juice bar.
All are welcome during sensory-friendly shopping times, and many commented about how calming they found the experience, Baresinkoff says. “It was definitely a different shopping atmosphere – it was very calm.”
Raising awareness and financial support
In addition to supporting community members with sensory sensitivity, the event also supports AutismBC, which has provided families with much-needed programs and services since 1975. Rooted in information and support, their programs equip families and professionals with essential autism knowledge and offer individuals with autism an opportunity to participate in community activities.
As of last year in B.C., 1 in 51 children age 6 to 18 have been identified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder, 4.5 times more common in Canadian boys than girls.
In addition to those with autism, those with Sensory Processing Disorder, concussions, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and ADHD can also be affected by lights and noise.
In support of Autism Awareness Month, the Safeway Willowbrook will be fundraising at the checkouts for AutismBC, and during the Sensory-Friendly Shopping hours, volunteers will be on-hand to answer questions about autism and their programs.