Shopping centre ‘quiet room’ an Australian first for kids with autism

NorthlandQuietRoom1 Shopping centre quiet room an Australian first for kids with autism

The mere thought of shopping with child in tow fills many a parent’s heart with dread – but when the child has autism, it can be a particularly challenging outing.

Fiona Sharkie, chief executive of Amaze, Victoria’s peak body for autism spectrum disorder, says parents of children with autism can be reluctant to brave shopping centres.

“It can be very difficult for parents with children on the spectrum to be able to come out to public places, such as shopping centres, for fear of their child having a ‘meltdown’ due to too much sensory stimulation,” she says. “And not just children – adolescents and adults with ASD are often overwhelmed by the sensory experience that is shopping.”

But now, a Victorian shopping centre has opened Australia’s first “quiet room” for people with autism. The room at Northland, in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, was introduced as a sensory soothing space for people with autism to go when feeling overwhelmed. The quiet room has bean bags and soothing items to help reduce overstimulation. It was built by local volunteers and businesses in consultation with a committee, most of whom have been personally touched by autism.

NorthlandQuietRoom3 Shopping centre quiet room an Australian first for kids with autism

It opened in the same week that the Victorian Opera launched “relaxed performances” of Hansel and Gretel – with lights on, lower sound levels and capped audience numbers – for children with Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. Performers will introduce themselves at the start of the show and won’t wear make-up. Children will be able to move around the theatre or use a “chill-out” space outside the auditorium, reports The Age.

One in up to every 110 people is affected by autism spectrum disorder, equating to about 250,000 Australians. Traits of the developmental condition include impaired communication and social interaction and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities.

Northland manager Michael Bickers says the centre wants to help people with autism and their carers to feel more comfortable in public spaces and  engage more with their community. He says the centre also wants to raise awareness of ASD by promoting local support services and programs.

7 Comments

  1. What a fantastic idea! I hope more shopping centres follow suit as it will help so many families.

  2. Is this just for autism?
    My daughter doesn’t have autism but she does have a rare genetic disorder called Rubinstein Taybi syndrome . She has some traits similar to autism. She doesn’t speek, she has sensory issues, she absconds if she’s not in a pram etc. we would love to use a room like this at the shops, but do you discriminate? I’m getting a little tired of autism getting all the awareness and people accommodating for autism when there a hundreds of other syndromes out there very similar to autism, but just more rare ! Please advise if it is only for autism or others are welcome also. If others are in fact welcome then perhaps have a think about changing the name to a “disability room” or a “sensory room” etc.

    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Regards
    Angela Roberts

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  3. Hi Angela, if you call the shopping centre customer service line on (03) 9478 1399, I’m sure they’ll be able to answer your questions better than what I can and with a lot more accuracy! I really hope that this room can accommodate your daughter ensuring a more comfortable shopping day out for the both of you! ~LK

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  4. Angela, just use it anyway. Its still serving its purpose. It would be a different story if you went in with normal children to change a nappy or breastfeed considering there are rooms dedicated to that purpose. Its a low sensory room for anyone who needs it. Management wont stop you as that would be discrimination and im sure the other parents will be too busy to notice. And when they are done with calming there own kiddo will probally enjoy chatting with you.

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  5. What a wonderful idea. This would be ideal for lots of little ones with similar symptoms including Downs Syndrome.
    I sincerely hope other shopping centres adopt this idea. There are a few who have areas for parents and little ones to chill out but they have frosted sliding doors and you could accidentally let a child escape while you are entering.

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  6. Angela roberts, I’m not involved with the shopping center but I am autistic and my daughter is autistic and I can promise you that you and your daughter are welcome to use the room for the same purpose. It is for those who are overwhelmed by the sensory overload of shopping centers. We are not seeking somethingexlusive to one condition. its for anyone who needs such a space.

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  7. tHIS IS A GREAT IDEA BUT MAKE SURE IT DOESN’T LEAD TO SEGREGATION OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITY, OTHER SIBLINGS SHOULD BE ALLOWED IN AND THERE SHOULD BE SUPPORT RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO READ OR LOG INTO TO SEE HOW/WHO OFFERS HELP TO REDUCE OR LIMINT SENSORY DEFENSIVENESS & ANXIETY ETC. wE HAVE A GREAT ot PROGRAM FOR OUR SON THAT REALLY HELPED WITH THIS AND NOW WE CAN TAKE HIM ANY WWHERE. HE IS NON-VERBAL (TOTALLY , NOT ONE WORD) AND HAS AUTISM. CONGRATULATIONS!! THIS IS A GREAT IDEA WITH THE ABOVE CAVEAT

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