Meadowhall is to host an autism friendly weekend this Saturday and Sunday.
Dozens of stores at the shopping complex will open earlier this weekend to allow children with autism to familiarise themselves with the centre in a "less stressful environment".
Families with children who have autism are invited to the shopping complex from 8am - 9am on Saturday and Sunday. However, shops will only between 8am and 9am on Saturday only.
Organisers say the centre will be virtually empty, allowing the children to feel more comfortable and experience different environments.
Lighting and music will be turned down and a new sensory zone will be open in The Lanes across the weekend.
The move is a joint venture between Sparkle Sheffield, a charity supporting families with autistic children, and Meadowhall's customer service team.
Liesje Dusauzay, founder and CEO of Sparkle Sheffield, said: "Shopping centres can be bewildering places for children with autism, that’s why Autism-friendly Hours at Meadowhall over this weekend is so important and gives the children and their families time and space to get to know the centre in a calm and controlled manner."
Dozens of stores – including Next, M&S, Primark and Debenhams – have agreed to open at 8am for the VIPs to allow the children to familiarise themselves with the Centre but in a less
Paula Windle, Meadowhall customer experience co-ordinator, said: “This is the first Autism-friendly Hour Meadowhall has trialled, but we hope it will help the families feel more comfortable in their surroundings having visited when the stores and malls are much quieter than normal."
“Over recent months we have also been trialling a special sensory room in the centre where autistic visitors can go for a bit of “time out” if they start to feel overwhelmed. It has special
mood lighting and seating and we have been very lucky to be advised by Sparkle Sheffield, which has also worked with us on other autistic-friendly projects.”
Added Mrs Dusauzay: "The unfamiliar sounds, sights and crowds can be so daunting that families will avoid them, which is a shame as everyone misses out.
As well as Autism-friendly Hour, Meadowhall has also invested in staff awareness and training – both delivered by Sparkle Sheffield - and turned its main dome blue for Autism
Awareness over the same weekend.
Meadowhall has also been supported by Rompa, which loaned Meadowhall the sensoryequipment for its trial and is also involved with the Autism-friendly Hour by equipping an
additional sensory room in a unit on The Lanes which will be open both Saturday and Sunday.