The Hibiscus Coast may just become a calmer place for people with special needs if Gaylene Chambers, the mother of a 12-year-old son with autism, has her way.
Inspired by the Countdown supermarket in Marton, near Palmerston North, which has introduced a “quiet shopping hour” once a week, Gaylene hopes to see something similar rolled out in Orewa.
The quiet hour caters specifically for people with autism and involves turning off some lights, switching off music, avoiding loud noises and ensuring that no-one is stocking shelves or moving trolleys around.
Gaylene says supermarket shopping can be a difficult experience for children with autism because they interpret the world and what is happening around them differently than other children.
Noise, a lot of bright lights and activity can lead to sensory overload, which can sometimes result in a meltdown.
Gaylene remembers one day when her son became anxious and overwhelmed, and she was forced to sit on him in the middle of the supermarket aisle to stop him hurting himself.
“It was the correct procedure in the circumstances, but that didn’t stop my son from yelling for help and making a terrible scene,” she says. “What really hurt though was that no-one came to help me or went to get help for my son. They just stood at the ends of the aisle and watched.”
Gaylene hopes to convince a local supermarket to trial a “quiet hour” and consider other measures for people with special needs and the elderly such as wider aisles for easier mobility scooter and wheelchair access, and providing support for those with hearing and vision impairments.
She is also working on other initiatives to address the challenges that children with autism face by providing special movie nights at Hoyts in Whangaparaoa and sensory haircuts.
Two local salons – Cut 2 Go on Hibiscus Coast Highway and Ace of Fades Barber Shop on Whangaparaoa Road – have already come on board, and the first movie night for special needs children was held on September 21.
Gaylene’s son was diagnosed with autism when he was three.
“At that time, one person in 110 had an Autism Spectrum Disorder, now that figure is one-in-66.”
She hopes that as awareness about the disorder increases, more people will be more understanding and less judgmental.