Bright lights, public address announcements and background music add up to an uncomfortable shopping experience for some people.
Sobeys at the Fundy Trail Centre is now offering people an opportunity to shop in a calmer environment on Sunday evenings from 6-7 p.m.
“They were offering sensory-friendly shopping at Sobeys in P.E.I. and we thought it was a good idea, so we contacted Autism Nova Scotia about doing it here,” said Andrew St. Coeur, manager of the store.
“We tried it a couple of times before Christmas and it went well so we started again in January.”
During the hour, lighting is reduced, overhead music is off, and carts aren’t collected.
“We’ve learned as we’ve gone,” said St. Coeur. “We have an extra cashier on to act as a runner, so we don’t have to make announcements. We create documents and post them, so people know about sensory awareness hour. Some people see the lights are dimmer and wonder if we’re open.”
One of the shoppers who is enthusiastic about the event is Courtney Mills, who is on the autism spectrum.
“I went, and it was awesome,” she said. “I usually shop with headphones or go later at night or in the early morning.
“This is important because a lot of people with autism can’t go shopping at regular times, because so many things can trigger a meltdown. A lot of other people have sensory issues and want to avoid overload, too.”
Leah Poirier, autism support coordinator with the Truro chapter of Autism Nova Scotia, worked with St. Coeur on the plans for sensory-friendly shopping.
“We provided them with information for staff to build an understanding of why this was being implemented and what would help,” she said.
“We had people providing information at the door during the events, and people were really interested and appreciative.
“One woman who was there with her son, who is seven, said it was the first time he was comfortable not being in the cart when they were in the store.”
Poirier’s 14-year-old son, Owen, accompanied her to the event and explored the store more independently than he had before.
“A lot of people seemed to like it,” said Poirier. “It’s good for the hearing impaired because there’s less background noise, and it’s good for people who are sensitive to bright lights. Some shoppers need an environment that’s a bit more calm.”
Autism Nova Scotia and Sobeys are discussing the possibility of extending the program to other stores.
Sensory-friendly shopping may not be offered on Sundays before busy holidays, but any cancellations will be announced ahead of time.