An open letter to ASDA:
I wanted to bring to your attention the most fantastic example of customer service that I experienced today in your recently opened Redditch branch.
My ten year old son, Oscar, is on the autistic spectrum. Whilst in store today, he became overwhelmed with fear by the Halloween displays around the store.
We had made our way into the store and past a scary skeleton without too much distress but once we were at the rear of the store he was in a total state of sensory overload and the anxiety of the skeleton became too much for him to cope with.
He quite literally went into a state of panic and was clawing at me, begging to be taken out of the store as he ‘wasn’t safe’. Being at the rear of the store, there was no easy escape and by it was clear that he felt EVERY exit route was ‘unsafe’.
To say this was distressing for both him, his seven-year-old sister and I is an understatement and other shoppers were also upset to see a young boy so afraid.
Among murmurs from other customers of ‘the displays should be kept to one area so people can avoid it’ (I agree with this entirely and shall address this with you as a separate issue) and ‘poor lad, can we help?’ a friendly face appeared and asked if she could help.
The ‘friend’ was Emma: a young lady who works in the George Clothing area of the store. I don’t know if she has children or has experience of autism but she showed a level of caring and understanding that we rarely see outside of family.
She understood that we couldn’t just leave the store – we were trapped as far as Oscar was concerned – and we needed to work to comfort and calm Oscar. Emma asked him ‘what DO you like?’ and when he replied ‘Star Wars’.
She raced to fetch the first thing with Star Wars on.
She returned in seconds with a pair of pyjamas and got him to talk through the pictures on them. WOW. She held a magic key and he started to calm down.
Emma understood that we couldn’t leave the store via the checkouts as the displays could be seen from there so, once I’d paid for the few items we’d got (before people criticise I also needed Oscar to see that we can’t just leave situations because they make him uncomfortable as I am working hard to desensitise him and then praise him on all the things he did right) she arranged with security that I could pay (with Oscar standing at the end of an aisle in my view), go back into the shopping area and then slowly encourage Oscar – via a more comfortable exit – out of the store.
At every step of our shopping experience, Emma made it that little bit easier for both Oscar and I.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to thank her properly as, after she’d arranged that we could make our clear exit with security, we went off on our own to slowly work our way out of the store (it took about 40 minutes to get him near to the exit as I had to check every aisle and turning for anything that may upset him again and each time he got worked up and needed calming down again) and he got upset again so we sat in the coffee shop for a bit before one last dash from there to the door.
Emma demonstrated what it is to make a difference. She showed kindness, compassion and worked at Oscar’s pace and she modelled EVERYTHING that a person in a customer interfacing role should do. ASDA, you have shown yourself to be a company that recognises the varying needs of people with autism and people with non-visible disabilities and this is why we shop with you.
Emma exemplifies this in the way she works. She is a credit to ASDA and I hope that she will be recognised for the exceptional way she handled our upset today.
I later returned to the store to see her and thank her but her shift had finished. A colleague believed her name is Emma Sanders. Emma… THANK YOU.
Today you made more of a difference than you can possibly imagine.
I’m writing this to raise awareness of what it is to have autism and be petrified beyond belief. So that people who see the ten year old howling and clawing don’t judge him and think ‘grow up’, but step back and realise that this child may be in crisis and need space/support/anything other than judging.
(As a final footnote – why the hell have those awful decorations in such open spaces where young and vulnerable cannot avoid them? My opinion is – fine, have them: celebrate it… but keep them to an area of the store where they can’t cause as much distress – just like porn would be).
Words by Jen M Goodhand-Wyatt