PhotoFor children with autism, the chaos of back-to-school shopping is felt on a different level. Busy department stores can be overwhelming with their bright lights, music, and hordes of people.

For this reason, JC Penney decided to host a special shopping event for families of children with autism and special needs. In the interest of making back-to-school shopping a more sensory friendly experience, the retailer dimmed the lights and cut the music for two hours.

“We’re in about 50 percent lighting,” General Manager Jay Tollett told CW33. Beyond reducing brightness and turning off the music, employees were asked to wear neutral colors and no perfume on August 14.

Autism-friendly service

In addition to coming clad in neutrals, employees were trained to provide autism-friendly customer service as part of a collaboration with the Dallas Independent School District.

The shopping event was met with appreciation from parents like Lacinetta Coxon, a mother of two autistic daughters. Coxon said she felt understood and included rather than “on the outskirts.”

Employees were just as happy to provide the experience, said Tollett, who hopes to make the event an annual tradition at more locations.

Other initiatives 

JC Penney isn’t the first retailer to roll out a welcome mat to families of children with autism. In Glasgow, an entire shopping mall has taken steps to become more autism friendly. In 2014, 61 Toys R Us locations in England became autism friendly for a day.

One Walmart-owned store in England introduced a "quiet hour" every Saturday morning to make shopping less stressful for kids with autism and disablities. 

"When we open our doors, you will be able to hear a pin drop," store manager Simon Lea told the Manchester Evening News. "We have a lot of disabled customers and we want to make the shop better for them."

A shopping mall in Holyoke, Massachussettes has also introduced a sensory-friendly shopping experience, complete with sensory-friendly time with Santa near the holidays.


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