Anyone can experience sensory overload — however, for people with conditions such as sensory processing disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder, sensory overload can be debilitating.
With greater awareness businesses like Coles and Event Cinema are leading the way in creating more sensory friendly environments so all people can have access to the services they need.

Sensory Friendly Cinemas
Cinemas offer sensory friendly sessions
Sensory processing is the process by which the body takes in information from the environment, makes sense of it and then determines the best way to respond. Information is delivered through smells, light, noise, touch and taste and for people who experience an altered or heightened sensory awareness, what other people may not even notice can cause significant pain, overwhelm and overstimulation.

Environments that can contribute to sensory overload can be shopping centres, cinemas, festivals even buses and a busy road. Even the smell of coffee, the clattering of glasses, the whirring of a fan or a group of people talking can add to the sensory overload and overwhelm.

Most people experience sensory overload at some point in time, but for people who experience sensory impairment, it can prevent them from doing simple daily activities like grocery shopping, catching public transport or even going to work.

Some sectors within the community are taking a stance and opening their doors to be more inclusive of people of all abilities, in particular, considering sensory needs.

We’ve put together a list of sensory friendly options in Australia – but it’s by no means an exhaustive list, we are hopeful there are many more services becoming sensory friendly, so if you know of any other initiatives, please email the team at [email protected] and tell us about them!

Shopping & Services

Coles Supermarkets has partnered with Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) to provide ‘Quiet Hour’ every Tuesday from 10:30 am to 11:30 am. Quiet Hour is run across 68 stores nationally, and shoppers can experience low-level lighting and reduced noise. For a listing of all participating stores, please visit the Coles Website

Learn to Drive. Drive Smart Driving School in Adelaide partners with Autism SA to upskill staff to run programs specifically for learner drivers with Autism Spectrum Disorder to become excellent drivers in a safe, supportive and friendly environment.

Hairdressers are taking the stress out of haircuts for many children (and, of course, their parents and carers!). Giggles & Scissors are mobile, based in Brisbane. In Maitland, NSW Shear Abilities is a friendly, welcoming, inclusive salon for clients.  In South Australia, AutismSA has a growing directory of sensory friendly services, including hairdressers.

ENTERTAINMENT

Cinemas are beginning to offer sensory-friendly sessions complete with dimmed lighting, volume lowered for sensitive ears and encouraging viewers to move about the cinema as they need. Event Cinemas details. Village Cinema details.

Sensory Parks are popping up around Australia with the first and largest at the Gladstone Lions Park in central Queensland. There are two smaller sensory nature parks in Brimbank Park and Serendip Park in Victoria with social script resources for children on the autism spectrum.

GENERAL INFORMATION

Autism SA Directory is a useful tool, with a growing number of autism-friendly services listed.

The Quiet Hour concept was brought to Australia by Cara, a South Australian disability provider. They’ve worked with local retailers, including The Good Guys, and some local supermarkets to facilitate designated Quiet Hours. They can support other business interested so definitely worth chatting with your local stores if you think Quiet Hour might work in your area.

Autism SA is working to bring their ‘Autism Friendly Charter’ to the rest of Australia, with the help of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The charter focuses on supporting businesses nationwide to become autism-friendly. 

We look forward to adding to this list of sensory friendly services as more and more become available.

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