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Sensory-friendly experiences

A young child with glasses.

You may have heard of Quiet Hour – a sensory-friendly shopping experience that takes place in malls, supermarkets and retail stores around the nation. It’s a quiet revolution because retail is designed to be overwhelming, buzzy and sometimes confusing – and often, if you can’t find your way out of a shop, chances are you’ll buy something (anything), just to get out!

Quiet Hour is one way retailers are serving customers with different sensory needs. For best practice, music is turned off, pager messages and trolley collections are paused, checkout sounds are turned down, lights are dimmed where possible, and anything that creates a strong scent is held off for the hour.

But what else is available when you’re looking for low sensory experiences?

A recent survey of people with autism found that just four per cent believed businesses and organisations understood how to support someone on the spectrum. At times, this can hold people back from engaging in everyday experiences that others may take for granted – like going to the dentist, getting a haircut, learning to drive or taking the kids out.

That’s why we’ve found a range of sensory-friendly experiences to help you with getting those tasks done.

Smile – sensory-friendly dentist

A trip to the dentist isn’t everyone’s favourite experience, however proper dental care is key to better health and wellbeing.

If you Google ‘autism friendly dentist’ and your location, it will search dentists who are qualified and able to provide a lower-sensory experience. This may include special tinted glasses, light covers on overhead fixtures, noise cancelling headphones, and painless and efficient cleaning equipment to provide a more comfortable experience.

Keep moving – sensory-friendly shoe fittings

Shoe shopping can be a high sensory experience. Thankfully, Athlete’s Foot (nationwide) has an accessible and inclusive appointment service for children and adults.

Read more about the experience here and find out how you can book appointments online for shoe fittings, returns and more. Look for the headphone symbol to find ‘quiet’ appointments – and book as soon as you’re ready to get moving, because spots may be limited.

The retailer Shoes and Sox has accessible appointments available at its stand-alone stores too. You can even download the store’s specific sequence guide and autism-friendly communication board before your appointment to help you prepare. Shoes and Sox has locations across Australia, which you can find here.

Luscious locks – hairdressers who understand sensory needs

Whether you’re looking for a mobile hairdresser to come to your house (where you have more privacy and control of the environment) or a salon to visit, again, Google is your best friend.

A lot of hairdressers who recognise what their market needs have undergone training with their state-based autism organisation and will take the time to provide a calmer, quieter, salon-quality experience.

You can also find no-perfume, no-dye hair salons designed and staffed by neurodivergent hairdressers, and well-spaced stations with no chat and low-touch and low-heat services. And, of course, you or a friend can always call or email in advance to talk about your preferences (to save having a conversation in person, if that’s not your thing).

Spring in your step – accessibility at Bounce

Bounce is an indoor trampoline park for every age, with venues across Australia. It doesn’t have specific sensory sessions, however Bounce Australia staff are trained to support people with varying abilities and sensory requirements, so everyone can get their bounce on!

Click here for more information about what Bounce is doing to support inclusion.

Jump around – visual tools to prepare for Inflatable World

Inflatable World, in locations around Australia, takes the idea of a jumping castle and makes it incredible! There’s something full of air to bounce, slide or roll on wherever you look!

To create a better experience on arrival, the Inflatable World team has created a special script with visual cues to prepare children for what to expect. You can download the script here (this link is for the Charmhaven venue in New South Wales, but it’s handy for everyone).

The great outdoors – autism-friendly national parks

Being out and about in nature is scientifically shown to improve health and wellbeing – even seeing the colour green can reduce stress, improve mood, increase creativity, and enhance cognitive functioning.

Parks Victoria has created social stories for its parks in partnership with AMAZE, and Parks and Wildlife Service South Australia has created social scripts for parks – simply search under the ‘accessibility’ option for your preferred park (this link is for Belair National Park).

Out and about – sensory-friendly fun

Hosted by Autism Spectrum Australia, this events calendar is updated regularly with autism-friendly events at various locations across the country.

There are also tonnes of venues and activities that offer sensory sessions, sensory-friendly spaces, and low sensory events, so jump onto Google and see what you can find. Think museums, art galleries, sporting venues, play cafes, nightclubs, and even the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre!

You may need to contact the location you’re interested in to find out when their next sensory session is taking place. Otherwise, if you know there’s a place you’d love to visit in a more sensory-friendly way, why not contact them directly?

On the road – learning to drive

When it’s time to get behind the wheel and learn to drive, there are specialist driving instructors to cater for learners with various sensory requirements. Some driving schools will organise an occupational therapy assessment first and others rely on their patient and calm teaching styles.

Find your driving school by Googling ‘autism-friendly driving lessons’ and your location.

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My Plan Manager acknowledges the objectives of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

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