We’ve all seen children ‘throw a tantrum’ or ‘have a meltdown’ in the supermarket. It’s all too easy to roll our eyes and shake our heads if a child is acting out, but what we don’t know are the reasons behind it, and it’s important to consider that it might not simply be a case of them misbehaving.

Many autistic people are completely misunderstood

Many autistic people are completely misunderstood

There are around 700,000 autistic people in the UK. Being autistic means seeing, hearing and feeling the world differently, often more intensely. This can have an impact on the senses, and make simple everyday tasks, such as visiting the supermarket, scary and overwhelming.

In a study, 64% of autistic people said they avoid shops, with a heartbreaking 28% having been asked to leave a public place for reasons associated with their autism.

To help raise awareness to the nation, The National Autistic Society are continuing to make the UK a more autism friendly place, and between 6-13th October they are launching Autism Hour up and down the country.

Autism Hour is an initiative which encourages supermarkets, banks, shopping centres and businesses to take small steps to be more autism friendly for just 60 minutes during the second week of October.

A number of major high street names have already signed up, including The Entertainer, Pets at Home, Sainsbury’s, Argos, Lloyds Bank, Halifax, Bank of Scotland, Co-op and Schuh.

In total, over 10,000 stores are already listed – there is even an online map here so you can see which stores near you are taking part.

Celebrities are also getting involved, with Chris Packham, Anne Hegerty and Christine McGuiness backing the charity initiative.

TV presenter, naturalist and NAS ambassador Chris Packham said, “I rarely go into supermarkets. I find that environment really challenging, all of the bright lights, the confusion of the enormous complexity of goods in there, plus all the smells and the sounds. It’s a difficult environment. And that’s why I’m very keen to support Autism Hour, those shops which offer an hour where they make the whole atmosphere a lot more relaxing for autistic people.”

To accompany the campaign, a video has been released to raise awareness which shows how some autistic people view the world.

The film features a young boy being taken to a shopping centre and being hit with a barrage of sights and sounds which overwhelm him. We see shoppers watching and sneering, not understanding that the boy is autistic.

The National Autistic Society are hoping that the film, as well as Autism Hour, will help change people’s perceptions.

The National Autistic Society hopes that the initiative has a lasting impact beyond the week of activity, and that many businesses will follow The Entertainer’s example and introduce permanent changes like their weekly Quiet Hour, or work towards the Autism Friendly Award. This is an opportunity for shops to make a big difference to the lives of autistic people through simple changes.

For more information on National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour and how to get involved visit: autism.org.uk/AutismHour