Here's something you probably don't need me reminding of: Malls are a lot to handle during the holidays.
Long lines, ferocious bargain shoppers, road rage in overcrowded parking lots — you know the drill.
If you have autism, though, a bustling shopping center can be an exhausting experience in an entirely different sense.
Many people who have autism have varying degrees of sensory input issues. They may be over- or undersensitive to the sights, smells, and noises around them.
As you can imagine, going to the mall on a day like Black Friday is basically out of the question.
"For many autistic people and their families, a simple trip to the shops, which should be an enjoyable experience, can be fraught with difficulty," Daniel Cadey of the U.K.'s National Autistic Society said in a statement. "Autistic children and adults can become overwhelmed with too much information inside a busy store."
That's why, on Nov. 6, 2016, several Toys R Us stores in the U.K. will hold a quiet hour of shopping for kids who have autism and their parents.
Many slight adjustments will go into effect to make the shopping experience more comfy and calm, such as dim lights, a reduction of overhead fluorescents, and no in-store music or announcements over the loud speaker.
"We understand toys are more personal to many additional needs individuals," said Mike Coogan, marketing and e-commerce director at Toys R Us, reports The Independent. "So being able to relax and choose something special themselves and enjoy the facilities and content of the store, the same as other children can do without concerns, will help in making their Christmas truly magical."
"Me and my son and daughter will be there," one woman wrote on the Facebook event page. "My son is 20 months old with autism. What a lovely thing to do."
Shopping can be very taxing for someone with autism and their loved ones — even beyond sensory overload itself.
Autism isn't visible. So when someone is overwhelmed by their environment, it can seem as though they're acting out or misbehaving.
"My son had a meltdown in a shopping center after becoming overloaded by the crowds, bright lights, and smells," explained Jo Wincup, a mom whose son, Ben, has autism.
People stared, as though Ben had been acting naughty. Some even said hurtful things to her.
"I just wanted to cry," Wincup said. "For the ground to swallow us up."
If you want to be a helpful ally to moms like Wincup, it's probably smart to learn more about autism and how it may affect others. That way, instead of jumping to conclusions the next time you're out in public, you may be able to lend a helping hand or offer a kind word of support at a stressful moment.
Sure, holiday shopping is a lot, but it's also a big part of the season.
So it's important retailers — and each and every one of us — do our parts in making sure everyone feels loved and included.