Asda Middlesbrough colleague Jenny Barnett has designed velcro-backed shopping cards to make shopping easier for autistic children.
Four-year-old Charlie has non-verbal autism and always found shopping an overwhelming experience – until his mum Jenny Barnett came up with a simple visual aid that keeps him interested and engaged on his trips to Asda.
Jenny, who works at our Middlesbrough store, was inspired by the way Charlie’s school uses symbols and pictures to help him communicate. So she came up with a velcro-backed visual shopping list showing lots of different items.
Now her picture sheets – available at the store’s customer service desk – are helping to make the weekly shop less stressful for other shoppers and their children.
Jenny, who’s 31 and has worked at the store for eight years, said: "When he was younger Charlie used to throw himself to the floor when he was in a big shop – it was clearly too noisy and too crowded for him.
“Then a few weeks ago a mum came in with her little lad who was autistic, and she was in a bit of a state because he was throwing himself on the floor just like Charlie used to.
“I managed to get down to his level and help her calm him down, but it got me thinking that there must be ways to make the shopping experience less stressful for children with autism and their parents.
“Charlie uses pictures to help him communicate at school, so I asked our general store manager Steve White if we could give them a try with Charlie and some of his school friends.”
Steve thought it was a great idea, so he and Jenny arranged a shopping trip for Charlie and other children from his class at Kirkleatham Hall School – a special school for kids aged three to 19.
Jenny said: "We used the communication symbol sheets and straight away they seemed a lot more settled, interested and engaged.
“We’ve advertised the sheets in the store and let customers know they can pick them up at the customer service desk. We’re getting really good feedback from customers so far.”
Charlie’s teacher Stephanie Welford said: “Jenny has put a large amount of time and effort into setting it up and we’re really pleased to be able to support her.”
Her school colleague Jo Wilson said: "The children have responded really well. They are already familiar with the communication symbols because we use them throughout the school.
“We are delighted to be involved in this initiative and can see real benefits for families and the wider community.”