Toy stores can hardly be considered tranquil environments, but one major toy retailer is striving to make the shopping experience more enjoyable for kids with autism.
Unfortunately, for many children on the autism spectrum, busy stores full of loud noises, bright lights, and a lot of commotion can be overwhelming to the senses. That’s why the UK operation for Toys R Us has been holding “quiet hours” for children with autism for the past two years. On November 6, for instance, the lights were dimmed, the music was shut off, and families with autistic children were welcome to enjoy a calm and peaceful holiday shopping experience.
Here in the U.S., Toys R Us executives are hoping to duplicate the practice.
“We’re working on a plan to test these types of opportunities on a local level – pairing our stores with local organizations to create an event for kids with special needs and their families,” said Toys R Us spokesperson, Candace Disler.
Toys R Us is not the only business to have taken steps to accommodate individuals affected by the condition. In Massachusetts, for instance, the Holyoke Mall will be asking all stores to turn off their holiday music on December 18 to provide children with autism a comfortable environment.
Similarly, JetBlue hosts a program for autistic children to familiarize them with the experience of flying before they take a trip on an airplane. AMC Theatres shows “Sensory Friendly Movies” during which the lights are left on and the volume is turned down.
Though a cause has not yet been determined, people with autism often have a heightened sense of smell or hearing, making it difficult for them to process stimuli. Because of this condition, children with autism can exhibit behavioral problems. The principles of Applied Behavior Analysis help to develop language, social, academic, and daily living skills in kids up to 18 years of age with autism and similar conditions.
Awareness about the condition has increased dramatically in recent years. In fact, in 2007, the United Nations declared April 2 to be “World Autism Awareness Day.” However, many parents of children with autism continue to struggle as some people fail to understand the condition.
“Unfortunately, still I feel like there’s a high level of intolerance,” said Angela Blanchet, a mother from Long Island whose 11-year-old son has autism.
She told CBS that a local toy store in her community did not want children with autism to visit the shop during normal business hours for fear that they will “turn off their customers.” While the storeowner did offer to allow Blanchet and her son to shop after hours, Blanchet refused. She found idea unacceptable because of the owner’s intolerance – he/she wasn’t trying to make the experience more comfortable for 11-year-old Benjamin, but rather to exclude him from the rest of the population.
“I think it’s great what Toys R Us is doing,” said Blanchet.