A new school year is right around the corner, and the back-to-school shopping mania is in full swing. For any family, this end-of-summer ritual can mean seemingly endless lists of supplies to search out, multiple trips to the store for forgotten items, and extra stress on parents. For families of children with autism, these difficulties are only magnified by the potentially more specific supply needs of an autistic child, as well as the effort it takes to plan and accomplish an outing to the store. This year, however, one J.C. Penney in Dallas, Texas has taken taken notice of the needs of the autism community, and has responded with a special, autism-friendly shopping event.

The Timber Creek crossing J.C. Penney in Dallas will host a special store opening 3 hours prior to the store’s usual hours for a 2-hour shopping experience exclusively for children with autism and their families. This act of inclusion alone will reduce stress for school supply seeking parents, who will not have to worry about social perception of their own parenting or their child’s behavior from those who may not be aware of their child’s autism.

Additionally, the store will be taking measures to make the ambiance sensory-friendly. The lights will be reduced by about 50%, the music typically played will be turned off, the air conditioning will be a little cooler, and the store’s staff will be wearing neutral colors and no perfume or cologne.

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Prior to this event, the store worked with the Dallas Independent School District to better understand how to design an environment to suit the needs of those on the spectrum. The store employees who will be working that morning received advice, as well as autism-friendly customer service training to help the event run smoothly.

Jay Tollett, general manager of the Timber Creek Crossing shopping center store, said he hopes to create more events like this, as well as have it expand to other JC Penney stores. “It was no trouble getting staff to work Sunday morning,” he said. “People are more than willing to help.”

An idea like this could make the dread of back-to-school shopping something to look forward to for families of children with autism if more stores were to offer events like these. For now, a spokesperson for JC Penney confirmed the company is looking into expanding the event to more stores.

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