Asda Introduces ‘Helper’ Shopping List for Kids With Autism

Food shopping with kids in tow is typically not easy, and if those kids are prone to sensory overload or meltdowns, it’s all that much harder. Many supermarkets and grocery store chains have rolled out “quiet hours” in the last few years to help those with special needs shop in a less-challenging environment, but the hours don’t always coincide with times of day or days of the week that families can actually get out and shop.

Asda is one of those chains that trialed a “quiet hour,” but only in some of its stores. Now Asda is rolling out something new to all of its locations—Handy Little Helpers shopping lists.

The lists were designed by Jenny Barnett, an employee at Asda’s Middlesbrough store. Jenny’s five-year-old son, Charlie, has non-verbal autism, and his school uses symbols and pictures to help him communicate. This inspired Jenny to come up with grocery shopping lists that used symbols and pictures to keep children engaged while their parent or caretaker shopped with them.

The Middlesbrough location successfully trialed the Handy Little Helper lists, and Asda decided to stock them at all of their supercenters and superstores (more than 300 locations). Each store carries 10 of the reusable lists—which also feature a clip to secure them to the shopping cart—and they can be found at the Customer Service desk. Although they were originally designed for children with autism, anybody can use them.

As for Jenny, she’s absolutely thrilled that her idea will help other children like her son. “It’s such a nice feeling that I can walk into an Asda miles away from Middlesbrough and see another child benefitting from my idea—it’s going to help so many children, which is great.”

Lidl Trials Autism-Friendly ‘Quiet Evenings’

A few Lidl supermarkets have joined the burgeoning movement of stores (and some game places, such as Chuck E. Cheese) adding an “autism-friendly” shopping time to their weekly or monthly schedules.

This newest addition to the growing list of these initiatives by shopping chains such as Tesco, Toys ‘R’ Us and Target, is worth noting because of the time its shopping hour will take place (as well as its duration). While many autistic adults and parents of autistic children have complained because the “typical” hour set aside for their exclusive shopping is in the early morning, Lidl shops in Ireland have announced that their autism-friendly shopping time—billed as autism-friendly “quiet evenings”—will occur from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

“My son is not keen on going to the shops as it is,” explains Louise Ireland, a mother of three whose eldest is on the autism spectrum. “As an autism mum, I would love to see evening times (or times not so early in the morning), as they’re just more suitable to our chaotic schedule.”

Lidl will be trialing these shopping evenings in their Pottery Road (Dublin), Carrickmacross (Monaghan), and Patrick Street (Westmeath) locations on Tuesdays through the month of August. As is typical, lighting will be dimmed, music will be turned off, no store announcements will be made, and extra staff will be available for assistance. Additionally, shoppers with an Irish Autism Action ID can skip to the front of the checkout line (those without it will also receive help if needed). Lidl has also created this map to help kids get familiar—and comfortable—with the store.

If the chain gets good feedback from customers, it may roll the program out to the rest of its Ireland stores and make it a permanent occurrence. It will be interesting to see whether their chosen evening hours may be at a time truly more friendly to those who need it.

Regions Bank Rolls Out Autism-Friendly Initiatives

Regions Bank, which serves 15 mostly Southern states in the U.S., has joined the growing number of businesses offering autism-friendly services and programs. The Alabama-based financial institution is promoting autism awareness and adopting autism friendliness by implementing accommodations for autistic individuals within each bank branch. They’ve also focused on training staff to recognize autism, react to situations appropriately, and communicate with autistic individuals.

Regions partnered with the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Autism Society of Alabama to develop and launch this initiative. In addition to designated quiet areas in all branches, the banks have “sensory packs” that contain noise-cancelling earbuds, sunglasses and a stress ball, to help reduce the stress of noise, light and other environmental factors. Regions contracted with Workshops, Inc.—a non-profit whose employees have developmental disabilities—to put together the kits.

Future plans may go further than just autism awareness, by focusing on helping autistic adults as customers—not just as companions to customers. As this image from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network shows, there are actions that Regions can implement that will help autistic adult with their financial needs.

Kathy Lovell, the ADA manager at Regions, continues to meet with autism support groups and service organizations within the bank’s branch communities, and has plans for the future.

“Just because an individual has a disability does not mean that they don’t have earned income and want to make wise investments,” she said. “I really feel like this supports two of Regions’ core values: doing what is right and making life better.”

Woodstock Chimes Autism Story

Julia, Sesame Street’s New Autistic Character, to Appear at Sesame Place

The newly introduced — and already beloved — Sesame Street character, Julia, will make her debut “live” appearance this Saturday, April 22, at Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.

Sesame Place holds their “Autism Awareness” Day event annually, in partnership with Variety, a local charity for children with special needs. As an autism-friendly event, the park will make adjustments to its usual operations, including low-sensory character shows, designated quiet areas and adjustments to noise levels. Julia will be walking around the park, welcoming attendees.

The event runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free for members of Variety. Parking is $25. Check out this link for more information.

Sesame Place officially opens for the season on April 27.

2017 NFL Pro Bowl to Be Autism-Friendly

This Sunday, the NFL’s Pro Bowl will take place in Orlando, Florida. As the location of Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and more, Orlando is one of the most family-friendly destinations in the U.S. And it’s about to get a little friendlier.

For the first time, this year’s Pro Bowl is striving to be as autism-friendly as possible. This includes sensory tools, a designated quiet room, and specially trained staff to help families. The staff will include both security personnel and Camping World employees, who will learn more about autism and the ways that they may be able to assist autistic families during the game.

Special Sensory Sacks will be available to all families, thanks to efforts by the group A-OK Autism in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which worked closely with the NFL. These sacks will contain a stress ball, noise-cancelling headphones, and a stadium wristband where the wearer’s seating information can be written down in case they get lost. The sacks will also contain a lanyard and badge that a person with autism or other developmental disability can wear to let others know, for example, if they are unable to speak. Of course, the badges can be worn or not worn at the individual’s or family’s discretion.

“Our goal is to make the game as family-friendly as possible,” Anna Isaacson, the NFL’s senior vice president of social responsibility, told the Orlando Sentinel. “We want to see if this is something the fans take advantage of and, if so, whether we can extend it to the Super Bowl and perhaps share it with the rest of the league.”

The NFL got the idea of an autism-friendly game from the Seattle Seahawks, which has six players on the NFC Pro Bowl Roster. The Seahawks first teamed with A-OK Autism in October 2015. Seahawks General Manager John Schneider and his wife have a child with autism, and they helped institute the same autism-friendly amenities—including the trademarked Sensory Sacks—at Seahawks Stadium then, with much success.

The program will be announced to Pro Bowl attendees on Game Day, and they’ll get instructions on where to go to pick up the Sensory Sacks.

The idea behind this is that there isn’t always a visual way to recognize if someone has autism,” Isaacson said. “And it’s hard for people who aren’t experienced with it to recognize that certain behaviors are part of the autism spectrum. We just want to make sure we’re creating a safe and comfortable and inclusive environment.”

In addition to the Seahawks, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Indianapolis Colts have also been working to make their games and facilities autism-friendly.

This Company Went Above and Beyond to Help an Autistic Child


Marc Carter’s 14 year-old son, Ben, has severe autism. Ever since he was two, Ben has insisted on drinking out of the same sippy cup. He simply won’t take his liquids out of any other cup or glass, and has been hospitalized for dehydration in the past because of this. While this rigidity is obviously a problem, the fact that the sippy cup is wearing out is an even bigger problem. So Marc decided to use social media to try to get a replacement supply of the cups to avert a future disaster.

As Marc first explained:

“Ben is 14 and has severe autism, he’s non-verbal and has very little understanding. Since the age of 2 he has drunk exclusively from a little blue Tommee Tippee two handled cup.

Fortunately about 3 years ago we managed to replace this very old and disintegrating cup with a newer one – cup part first, lid a few weeks later. He was suspicious but we survived.

No big deal right? We can just get something else! At that age he should be drinking out of a glass!

You’d think eh. Ben hasn’t drunk at school since the age of 5, he doesn’t drink outside of the house so we can’t go anywhere. People say he will drink when he’s thirsty, but two emergency trips to A&E with severe dehydration say otherwise.

These cups are not made anymore, the replacements are all new and fancy, we’ve tried them, Ben throws them at us. Maybe you have one stuck at the back of a cupboard? It can be used, that’s fine, the one he has doesn’t have long left. In all honesty we are really worried what will happen if it falls apart completely. Can you help us? Please share this far and wide, you can find me on twitter @GrumpyCarer. We will happily pay for the cup and postage, and we would love more than one if we can find them.”

His tweet, with the hashtag #CupForBen, was retweeted more than 1,200 times and his story was spread by major news networks. While many offers of replacements came in, most of them weren’t the right cup, unfortunately. And then Tommee Tippee, the manufacturer of the original sippy cup, stepped up to the plate.

Company staff in Hong Kong, France, the U.S. and Australia looking for the cup in their warehouses eventually found the original mold design. As they explain on their website, the company not only helped coordinate the delivery of cups from people all over the world, they’re also going to produce 500 new cups for Ben to ensure that he never runs out of the only cup he’ll use.

The company said, “It was clear from the beginning that this wasn’t just a cup for Ben, it was a lifeline for him.”

Some U.S. Toys ‘R’ Us Stores to Offer ‘Quiet Hours’

toysrus1A few weeks ago, we shared the news that Toys “R” Us stores in the U.K. would be offering quiet holiday shopping hours this past November 6th, so families of children (and adults) with autism could take them shopping in a sensory-friendly environment. Many of you asked if stores in the U.S. would be doing the same thing. The answer is yes, but not necessarily yours.

While Toys “R” Us corporate announced that, yes, stores in the U.S. would be offering “quiet hours,” they weren’t specific on which stores would actually be participating. That’s because they’re trying to do it on a local level.

As Meghan Sowa, a spokesperson for Toys “R” Us explained, “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.” While this is too much work to get much accomplished this holiday season, she also said that the toy store giant “will also assess opportunities to scale it nationally.”

The Toys “R” Us in Lafayette, Kentucky, was the first to offer the special event on the morning of Sunday, November 13, from 7-9 a.m. Lights were dimmed, music was low, and no announcements were made. Children could either accompany their parents to pick out toys or make wish lists, or stay in a designated “quiet zone,” where store employees entertained them and colored with them while their parents shopped. Refreshments were provided and store mascot, Geoffrey the Giraffe, was available for photo opportunities. The event was a partnership between the Lafayette Toys “R” Us store and local group, Autism Society of Acadiana.

“The pressure to be able to stay and withstand everything going on around us is always a hassle,” one mom explained, about her typical shopping trip. But at the special event, her child was able to run around the store and explore.

“For him to be able to be free and just run and pick what he likes…it was a better experience for me than it was for him,” said another shopping mother about her son. “I think that every [parent] of an autistic child should have this experience… I wish that every Toys “R” Us in the country could do this.”

The Lafayette store has said it hopes to repeat the shopping event in the future. As for other locations offering quiet shopping hours, we recommend that you check with your local store and/or autism organization.


Chuck E. Cheese Location Offers Sensory Sundays

chuck-e-cheese1Those of you who have had your child go absolutely ballistic when the Chuck E. Cheese figure came close to the table (raises hand) or the animatronic band started to play up on the stage (yup, that too) will be thrilled to learn that at least one Chuck E. Cheese location is now featuring Sensory Sundays.

The Chuck E. Cheese in Attleboro, Massachusetts, is collaborating with the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) to enable children on the autism spectrum to experience the fun of Chuck E. Cheese without the sensory overload.

Sensory Sunday will take place on the first Sunday of each month, between the hours of 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. This is before the game and pizza venue opens to the general public.

Breanna Tanksley, manager of Chuck E. Cheese’s in Attleboro, said: “We are excited to provide a special opportunity every month for sensory sensitive families to enjoy their favorite pizza and games in a safe and friendly environment of tolerance and understanding.”

Other Chuck E. Cheese locations have offered sensory-friendly hours, including the Warwick, Rhode Island, location. We recommend that you check with your local Chuck E. Cheese to see whether they offer something similar, or to start one yourself.

Gatwick Becomes First ‘Autism-Friendly’ Airport

gatwick2Last week, without too much fanfare, Gatwick Airport became the U.K.’s first designated “Autism Friendly” airport. The National Autistic Society is responsible for the presentation of the “Autism Friendly” award to restaurants, businesses, shopping centers, and more. Gatwick received the designation from the NAS, “in recognition of the airport’s commitment to becoming an accessible and friendly environment for autistic passengers.”

In order to earn the label, “Autism Friendly,” Gatwick had to meet a range of criteria that would benefit passengers with autism, along with their families and caregivers. This includes:

  • Providing clear and accessible information about the airport to autistic passengers;
  • Ensuring assistance is available for journey planning and preparation;
  • Training staff so that they’re better equipped to properly assist autistic passengers;
  • Introducing “Autism Champions,” who are trained to further educate and train airport employees, and to provide “enhanced assistance” to passengers who need it;
  • Rolling out initiatives such as the hidden disability lanyard program.

The hidden disability lanyard was introduced this past May, and is an option available for any passenger with hidden challenges, including autism, Alzheimer’s, hearing impairment, and more. While wearing the lanyard is voluntary, those who do discreetly alert airport staff that they may (quoting from Gatwick’s press release):

  • Need more time to process information or more time to prepare themselves at security;
  • Need to remain with family at all times;
  • May react to sensory overload (i.e., be surrounded by too much information);
  • Need staff to use clear verbal language as it may be difficult to understand facial expressions and/or body language;
  • Need staff to be visual with instructions and use closed questions to assist passengers effectively through the airport;
  • Benefit from a more comprehensive briefing on what to expect as they travel through the airport.

As anybody who has travelled with a child with autism likely knows, it’s especially hard when you take a child out of their recognized routine and familiar environment and expose them to the chaos and unpredictability of an airport. Initiatives like this one and Myrtle Beach’s “sensory-friendly quiet room,” go a long way in making it easier for passengers and their families to travel. We look forward to hearing about more airports earning the “Autism Friendly” designation.