Walmart’s Sensory-Friendly Shopping Initiative and the Benefits of Accessibility

Sensory friendly shopping

As summer winds down and the new school year approaches, many families are overwhelmed by the rapid race to purchase supplies and other scholarly necessities. From crowded stores, overloaded parking lots, and uncertainty regarding whether they can find the supplies they need, back-to-school prep requires considerable accessibility. This notion becomes even more prevalent for families with children on the spectrum. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often presents various sensory-related challenges, making this prep even more burdensome. Fortunately, some stores like Walmart have initiated sensory-friendly shopping opportunities for these families.

Walmart recently announced its brand-new initiative, which will continue throughout August and provide a sensory-friendly shopping experience for individuals with ASD and their families each Saturday from 8 AM to 10 AM. This opportunity will benefit those who experience difficulties with crowded, bright, and noisy environments, which shopping centers in August are very much prone to be.

At ABA Centers of America, we support companies that provide sensory-friendly experiences to individuals with autism in medicine, retail shopping, sports, or entertainment. Since a sense of normalcy and ease of accessibility are two primary components we strive to provide for those on the spectrum, let’s explore how this initiative is a massive step in the right direction.

Sensory-Related Concerns for Individuals with Autism

As we’ve discussed in many past blogs, autism presents various sensory-related challenges to individuals, including difficulties processing stimuli and increased sensitivity to sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and textures. New and unfamiliar environments often exacerbate the severity of these challenges, making typically standard routines difficult to approach and maneuver. When the setting is boisterous and intimidating, such as a packed department store, it’s almost a double-whammy regarding potential complications for those with ASD.

Specific items and strategies like headphones, a favorite toy, or shopping at particular times can significantly alleviate the potential for these concerns, but they often don’t do enough. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy works exceptionally well to help individuals overcome sensory issues, but those with more severe cases may still require additional support. As a result, companies and stores can go the extra mile to provide accessibility to these individuals who only wish to carry out the same errands as everyone else. Walmart is doing just that.

What Dangers Do Sensory-Related Challenges in Autism Present?

When a person with autism experiences high rates of overstimulation in any environment, they may experience a meltdown. These differ from temper tantrums and don’t classify as a challenging behavior in autism. Instead, meltdowns result from a person’s inability to process their senses effectively, leading to them temporarily losing control over their behavior.

This loss of control can manifest in numerous behaviors. Some verbal behaviors seen during a meltdown include:

  • Screaming
  • Shouting
  • Crying
  • Refusal to speak

Physical behaviors presented in a meltdown include:

  • Lashing out
  • Kicking
  • Biting
  • Elopement (running away)
  • Withdrawal from the situation
  • Increased anxiety and stress

How Does Walmart’s Sensory-Friendly Shopping Initiative Help Those With ASD?

Walmart’s new sensory-friendly shopping initiative benefits individuals with autism by limiting the number of factors contributing to a meltdown. The store plans to dim the lights, lower or completely mute all music, and replace moving pictures on screens with stationary images. These amenities allow children and their families to enjoy a complete shopping experience when choosing their supplies for the new school year.

This initiative also helps break stigmas and promote familiarity regarding autism to the general public. Walmart is the world’s largest company by revenue, and by incorporating this initiative in various locations throughout the United States, they are helping to bridge the divide between those who may not be familiar with autism and its related challenges. Since overall acceptance and a clear understanding of what autism entails is vital for reducing stigmas, Walmart is shining a necessary light on the behavioral disorder.

CEO of ABA Centers of America Speaks on the Initiative

Christopher Barnett, CEO of ABA Centers of America, recently took part in an interview where he shared his comments regarding Walmart’s new sensory-friendly shopping initiative with Retail TouchPoints. This online network provides resources, news, and updates for retail executives. Regarding Walmart’s sensory-friendly shopping initiative, Mr. Barnett had the following comments:

“…back-to-school shopping was an exciting rite of passage each year, but kiddos on the spectrum can miss out on the everyday experiences that end up being fond lifelong memories.” He further commented, “By reducing sensory overload and stress, this initiative enables children to engage more fully in the shopping experience and even helps them prepare for the major milestone of starting a new school year…”

Other Companies with Sensory-Friendly Initiatives

Walmart is undoubtedly an eye-catching company to promote such an initiative for those with ASD, but they aren’t the only organization making similar statements. This past spring, ABA Centers of America teamed up with AMC Theaters to offer sensory-friendly movie screenings for children with autism and their families. During these showtimes, the lights remain on, the volume lowers, and the “golden rule” of staying quiet during a movie doesn’t apply. This initiative allows children to watch the film as they please without jeopardizing sensory concerns or fear of distracting other spectators.

Chuck E. Cheese offers “Sensory Sensitive Sundays” each week, with early openings and a quieter environment – this includes dim lights, lowered music, a limited animatronics show, and a compassionate staff trained to ensure that children on the spectrum enjoy a stress-free, safe, and fun-filled visit.

Museums and theme parks also frequently host sensory-friendly hours for visitors. These hours usually occur on a weekend morning, allowing children with ASD and their families to get the whole experience free from sensory concerns. The adjustments are similar to those of AMC and Chuck E. Cheese, ensuring minimal overstimulating features. Some museums include the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

How Does ABA Therapy Help with Sensory-Related Challenges?

ABA therapy for autism is a proven treatment method for alleviating many sensory challenges individuals on the spectrum face. We do not try to rid individuals of these complications; instead, we teach them valuable skills and techniques to handle these situations aptly and minimize the issues they cause. By giving children and teens the tools to respond appropriately in these situations, they can more confidently approach daily endeavors such as shopping and social interactions.

ABA Therapy at ABA Centers of America

Walmart’s sensory-friendly shopping initiative is a fantastic opportunity for children and teens on the spectrum to enjoy the same activities and interactions as neurotypical individuals. Still, if your child or loved one requires additional support in other aspects of their lives, ABA therapy can significantly help.

ABA Centers of America offers comprehensive in-home and clinic-based ABA services tailored to each individual’s needs. We teach crucial skills in a fun manner to reduce problem behaviors and provide alternatives to build up inherent strengths. We also offer autism testing and diagnostic services for children and teens, promoting early intervention as a crucial component for the most positive results.

If you believe ABA therapy is the right choice for your child, contact us today to learn more about our services. Call (844) 923-4222 or visit our website for a free consultation.

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