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Gloucestershire Business News

Debenhams praised by Gloucestershire charity for move to welcome autistic customers

In the headlines for its financial woes of late Debenhams' partnership with the National Autistic Society puts it in the spotlight for very different reasons.

In an innovative move the household name and high street giant has teamed up with the society to host what it is calling 'autism hours'.

From tomorrow (October 8) between 11 am and noon the department store chain will be aiming to deliver a more autism-friendly shopping experience.

It is a move which has been welcomed by The Spring Centre, which supports between 80 and 100 families county-wide.

"Many of our autistic children have sensory processing problems when they go into a big store with bright lights and loud music," said Sarah Woodridge, care services manager for the Olympus Business Park headquartered charity.

"It is a lot of information to cope with and they might become anxious, refuse to cooperate and might have a melt down."

Debenhams said it was committed to dimming the bright lights and turning down the music in as many of its stores as it could, and turning off any loud tannoy announcements.

According to a statement, the company will also be rolling out an education programme for staff to help them understand the needs of autistic people and how best to support them and their families.

"It can be very disheartening for families when they are out and there is in incident and it is misunderstood. It can cause them to shy away entirely from visiting shops or going out at all. We would love to see this kind of approach spreading," said Ms Woodridge.

"It would be great to see cafes also offer quiet spaces, perhaps something to help people with autism cope with everything else going on around them."

Toy retailer The Entertainer has also partnered with National Autistic Society to encourage other retails to hold autism hours between now and October 12.

Punchline is unable to confirm at this stage whether Debenhams' Gloucester store is taking part in the campaign.

The Spring Centre operates without any Government funding, existing entirely on fundraising and donations. To find out more visit The Spring Centre . 

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