Multi-Sensory Environments Are No Joy When You’re Autistic

Christmas is the season for sensory overload

Jae L

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Photo by Heidi Fin on Unsplash

I recently wrote an article about ‘quiet hour’, an initiative in Australia (and probably other countries) where supermarkets and other public venues provide a low sensory environment for an hour a week. Some are providing it more frequently in December as a salve to the pre-Christmas madness.

Fluorescent lights are dimmed; noise from music, scanners, PA announcements and trolley gathering dialled down. Staff seem to be more attentive and accommodating. It’s a nice gesture from the corporates to say they’re thinking of our nervous systems, even if only once a week.

Initiatives like quiet hour have been branded as tokenistic window dressing but I think the reality is more complex. The problem is that in a multi-sensory environment like a supermarket or shopping centre, the potential sensory triggers are infinite and many of them difficult for anyone to control.

There are aspects of building design — the acoustics and the layout for example that are beyond the control of store management. In normal circumstance, they have no control over the number of people who come in or their behaviour. There’s nothing to stop people being loud or invading other people’s space. And there’s plenty of things that…

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Jae L

Queer, neurodivergent and in the business of defying expectations. Doing my best to answer the questions I keep asking myself. diverge999@gmail.com