Ireland’s first autism and sensory-friendly retail park

  • Parkway Rertail Park
Aisling Gavin and Olivia Ward, Annacotty pictured at the launch of Parkway Retail Park as Ireland’s first autism and sensory-friendly retail park, in association with Limerick Autism Group. (Pic: Dave Gaynor)

Launched in Limerick on Sunday (17 June) with a special family day, Parkway Retail Park is leading the way in sensory-friendly shopping, to make store visits easier for people with autism and other sensory difficulties.

Parkway Retail Park asset manager Sigma, which manages eight retail parks across Ireland, is making the customer experience easier for families of children with special needs.

They are providing autism-friendly car parking spaces outside stores and specific tills to avoid queuing and to allow an easier exit.

The project, in partnership with Limerick Autism Group, was launched with an autism-friendly family day for families of children with autism and other sensory issues.

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.

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 has been welcomed by local parents of children with autism.

“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).

“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,” said Emma Fennel mother of Sadhbh (5).

"Physical adaptations also require an increased awareness and staff training, which is being provided at the Parkway Retail Park,” said Mary Moore mother of Seán (9).

“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).

The spotlight on family day was on the Parkway Retail Park community providing both fun for children and information for families.

Trained volunteers were on hand from Limerick Autism Group as part of the events team.

Children’s entertainment 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.

“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, asset manager at Parkway Retail Park.

“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.

“Parkway Retail Park plan to host other autism-awareness events and fundraising initiatives.”

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