We all know how stressful holiday shopping can be. The crowds, the noise, the flashing lights. It can be a bit much for anyone, but for a child with autism, the overstimulation is unbearable, making family outings during the holiday season a nightmare.
A Target store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has responded to these concerns by offering two hours of quiet shopping on Dec. 10 for families on the autism spectrum. For the event, the store's lights will be dimmed, the music will be turned off, and there will be fewer staff members milling around, according to The Mighty. The quiet hours will be held in conjunction with a local organization that provides behavioral healthcare for adults and children.
“[W]e are committed to creating an environment where our team members and guests feel welcome, valued and respected," a representative of Target told The Mighty. "As part of that commitment, we empower our store leaders to make decisions that help meet the needs of the guests they serve. The store leader of our Lancaster East store worked with his team and local community partners to create a welcoming shopping event for his guests on the autism spectrum and we applaud his efforts. We don’t have plans to roll these events out company-wide, but are always looking for new ways to further enhance our guests’ shopping experience.”
Earlier this year, children's toy store Toys R Us also offered quiet hours so that children with autism can shop without all the commotion. Stores in the United Kingdom opened an hour early on Nov. 6 with dimmed lights and no music or loudspeaker announcements so that families affected by autism could wander the toy store aisles with as little sensory stimulation as possible.
"Making slight adjustments to stores and creating a quiet shopping period allows children and young adults to experience the fun in a toy shop, regardless of their disability," Toys R Us Marketing Director Mike Coogan told the Telegraph.
"Holding such events has given our teams extreme pride in reaching out to autism groups within the community," Coogan said.
These simple changes to the store environment can make a huge difference for children and adults with autism, helping them to feel more at ease with the experience.
This is the third year that Toys R Us has hosted the "quiet shopping hour" in the U.K., but it has not happened in the U.S. yet.
“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 Candace Disler, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey-based company, told CBS News. “We’ll also assess opportunities to scale it nationally.”
Similarly, a J.C. Penney store in Dallas held a back-to-school shopping event in August for families with autistic children. Lights were dimmed and music was turned off for the private, two-hour shopping event. In addition, employees wore neutral colors and no perfume and all went through special training so they could better help with the needs of shoppers with autism.
Editor's note: This story was originally published in November 2016 and has been updated with new information.