Riley is 7 years old. He loves playing with his remote control helicopter and marble run – but he does not like sitting still for long periods, being touched by strangers or trying on new shoes – making shopping for new school shoes an almost impossible task. Riley is on the autism spectrum.
Riley’s mum, Nicola, says trying on new shoes is one of those tasks that gets put off until the very last minute because of how upsetting it can be for both Riley and herself.
“The problem is I know how important it is to get him school shoes that fit well, but getting him to sit still, while someone he doesn’t know measures his feet and tries on a number of shoes, usually ends in the sort of behaviour that other people in store don’t understand and can find confronting.
“It’s really upsetting for him and frustrating for me,” Nicola said.
Enter Shoes & Sox and Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) who have partnered together to make this experience just a little easier for everyone involved.
Lisa Shalem, General Manager for Shoes & Sox said that the partnership, which started just under two years ago, aimed to create a calmer more relaxed environment for kids on the autism spectrum and their families – with staff who understood how autism impacts someone on the spectrum.
“We have been working closely with Aspect for 18 months now, providing training to our staff in how to recognise and respond to autism, and to make our store environments more autism-friendly.
“Things like opening our stores for autism-friendly shoe fitting appointments before and after hours, creating visual resources for non-verbal kids and storyboards that kids can look at before they arrive – so they know what to expect when they get here,” Ms Shalem said.
Matthew Oastler is a Consultant for Aspect's Autism Friendly Australia unit and has been providing Shoes & Sox staff with training and advice.
"For an individual on the autism spectrum visiting a busy shopping centre during the school holidays to try on shoes on can be extremely challenging!
“We have been working with Shoes & Sox to firstly help them understand how someone on the autism spectrum experiences the world, and then to create supports and environments that are considerate of these differences,” Ms Oastler
Aspect believes all Australians, including those on the autism spectrum, should have the opportunity to access and be included in the community in a safe, and meaningful way.”
All 35 Shoes & Sox stores nationally are participating. Parents can make an appointment for their child by contacting their nearest store directly. There are also helpful resources on the Shoes & Sox website to help prepare your little one for their shoe shopping experience.
Shoes & Sox stores that are located with a Westfield centre have posted details about the easiest access point for people to attend a shoe fitting. To find a Westfield location - www.westfield.com.au
Anyone wanting to know more about Autism Friendly projects can visit - https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/get-involved/making-australia-autism-friendly