Shh...opping in progress: 'Quiet Hour' for special needs kids

Ms Teo with her son Xander at VivoCity's Toys 'R' Us store yesterday. The store opened earlier at 9am, dimmed its lights and switched off the public address system and some display monitors, among other steps taken to create a more conducive environm
Ms Teo with her son Xander at VivoCity's Toys 'R' Us store yesterday. The store opened earlier at 9am, dimmed its lights and switched off the public address system and some display monitors, among other steps taken to create a more conducive environment for children with autism. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Supermarkets, toy store switch music off and dim lights, to cater to children with autism

Some people with autism find shopping a stressful experience, as they can be hypersensitive to the lights and sounds in stores.

So two supermarkets and a major toy store instituted a "quiet hour" yesterday to make their environments more conducive for them.

Store lights were dimmed and in-store music, the public address system and some display monitors carrying advertisements were switched off.

The FairPrice supermarkets at Zhongshan Mall in Toa Payoh and Kallang Wave Mall made these adjustments during the first hour of operations from 8am.

The Toys 'R' Us store at VivoCity in HarbourFront made similar changes yesterday and opened an hour earlier than usual at 9am, just for families with special needs children.

Administration executive Evangeline Teo, 43, went to Toys 'R' Us with her two sons who have autism. Her younger son Xander, six, likes to take toys from the shelves and place them on the floor.

PUBLICITY IS GOOD

With more awareness, we can help bring the 'invisible' disorder out into the open.

PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, on his Facebook post yesterday, which highlighted World Autism Awareness Day. 

PEACE OF MIND

I feel less stressed as the store is less crowded and less noisy, so I don't have to strictly enforce that he keeps the toys on the shelf.

ADMINISTRATION EXECUTIVE EVANGELINE TEO, on her more pleasant experience as her son Xander likes to put toys on the floor.

She told The Straits Times yesterday: "I feel less stressed as the store is less crowded and less noisy, so I don't have to strictly enforce that he keeps the toys on the shelf."

Quiet Hour: Project leader got the idea from Britain

Ms Tang Hui Yee, 28, an assistant manager at national youth volunteer programme Youth Corps Singapore, led the team behind the Quiet Hour project. They came up with the idea after reading that stores in Britain had similar initiatives.

Department store Asda Living in Manchester was one of the first to adopt the idea and staged its first quiet hour on a Saturday last May. It continues to do this every Saturday, after receiving positive feedback from shoppers. At least eight other shops in the same shopping park, Manchester Fort, have done the same.

Last Saturday, a Morrisons supermarket in Surrey, England, started a three-month trial of having a quiet hour once a week. Toys 'R' Us branches in Britain also held a quiet hour once in November last year.

Toys 'R' Us Singapore country manager Raymond Burt said: "Providing an environment that allows children with autism to browse at ease and truly experience the store, in the same way that other children can do without concerns, is the least we can do - even if it's only for an hour."

About a dozen families of people with special needs indicated their interest in the Quiet Hour project, and organisers hope this figure will increase with more publicity efforts and participating retailers in future.

Said Ms Tang, who used to teach children with autism: "We hope to run this on a regular basis with more organisations. A small step is a great difference to shoppers with autism and special needs."

Yesterday also marked World Autism Awareness Day, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted on his Facebook page.

Mr Lee said there are schemes to help people with autism live as independently as possible, but they also need support and understanding from the community.

He wrote: "Autism is an 'invisible disability'. Many people with autism show no obvious signs. No two have exactly the same symptoms, abilities, or problems...

"With more awareness, we can help bring the 'invisible' disorder out into the open."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2017, with the headline 'Shh...opping in progress: 'Quiet Hour' for special needs kids'. Print Edition | Subscribe