Aisling Gavin and Olivia Ward at the launch of the Parkway Retail Park as Ireland’s first autism and sensory-friendly retail park | PICTURE: Dave Gaynor
An autism and sensory-friendly initiative has been launched at the Parkway Retail Park in Limerick.
The initiative, the first in the country, is designed to make shopping and store visits easier for people with autism and other sensory difficulties by providing autism-friendly car parking spaces and specific tills to avoid queuing and allow an easier exit.
Sigma, which manages the Parkway Retail Park, launched the initiative, in partnership with Limerick Autism Group, on Sunday with a special family-fun day.
Children’s entertainment on the day included a bouncy castle, a magician specialising in special needs, an ice cream van, face painting, a Lego display, music from an interactive band, a strike-a-pose performer and the Limrocker dance crew.
The event also had an information hub where autism and speech-and-language therapy professionals and fellow parents were on hand to talk to parents.
Parkway Retail Park has provided training to store staff and is to host monthly meetings with parents of children with autism and other sensory issues to seek further input from them.
"There needs to be bigger and better awareness of autism in our communities across the country and Parkway Retail Park is more than happy to lead the way," said Sigma’s Paddy O’Connor, of Sigma.
“True autism-friendliness means that we welcome you, and we understand that sometimes that you may need additional support and we are happy to provide it," he add.
Community integration initiatives include plenty of signage and the availability of peaked caps for people with autism and other sensory issues which will block out light and help staff to identify people who may need assistance.
The launch of the new initative was welcomed by parents of children with autism who visited the Parkway Retail Park over the weekend.
"Having a child with autism means we have many hurdles in life, it’s great that going somewhere like the Parkway Retail Park will not be one of them,” said Michelle Kirwan mother of Sam (5).
Emma Fennel, mother of Sadhbh, agrees it's a fantastic initiative.
“Most people have autism awareness, the next step is autism acceptance. With these changes, retailers are giving children and adults with autism the chance to shop comfortably, independently and have family shopping trips without the fear of sensory overload,” she said.
“It is wonderful to see Parkway Retail Park taking the needs of children with autism on board and trying to make their lives a little easier,” said Kevin Hogan, father of Matthew (12).