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UK grocery store to offer ‘quiet hours’ for autistic shoppers

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A supermarket in the U.K. is set to offer special hours for autistic and disabled shoppers who may get stressed by loud noises or bright elements.

Asda, a British grocery store chain owned by Walmart, will begin offering “quiet hours” at one Manchester location starting next month, reports the BBC.

The Cheetham Hill Asda Living store will open early on Saturday, May 7. For the first hour of business, electronic screens and music will be turned off, escalators will be shut down, and store employees will not use the loud public announcement system.

The Asda store’s general manager, Simon Lea, says he came up with the idea after watching an autistic child and his mother struggle while shopping in the crowded supermarket.

“If we can make a few small changes to give these customers a better shopping experience and make them comfortable then I know the store will be a better place to shop for everyone,” Lea told The Guardian.

But the move to make shopping easier for all types of families is also a personal issue for the store manager.

"I suffered for many years with anxiety and I used to absolutely hate going into busy stores. If we can make a few small changes to give these customers a better shopping experience and make them comfortable then I know the store will be a better place to shop for everyone," the manager related to the Manchester Evening News.

The National Autistic Society (NAS) of the U.K. has applauded the store location’s initiative and says typical shops and other public spaces can be "extremely challenging" because of bright lights, unfamiliar smells and crowds.

"It can cause [autistic people] to feel overwhelmed by 'too much information'. This can be excruciatingly painful or cause extreme anxiety,” NAS Campaign manager Tom Madders told the BBC.

All of that unfamiliar information can lead to a meltdown—or cause people to avoid certain places altogether. Madders hopes other retailers will be inspired to create similar shopping experiences for those who suffer from autism, Asperger's and similar conditions.

Asda headquarters has not announced whether it will offer quiet hours on a larger scale but said it would monitor the Manchester location’s trial and consider it in the future.