North East Connected

Taking a step forward for World Autism Awareness Week

For a child with autism, some of life’s regular activities which are often taken for granted, can be traumatic such as getting a haircut or shoes fitted.

In World Autism Awareness Week (26 March – 2 April) charity Daisy Chain is keen to raise awareness of how difficult some everyday activities can prove to be but how with training and understanding many businesses and services can make a huge difference to the lives of families affected by autism.

Daisy Chain has worked closely with footwear specialists Charles Clinkard to help them train staff and create a bespoke personalised service for families affected by autism.

Charles Clinkard, managing director, said: ‘At Charles Clinkard we feel it is very important to look after our customers and understand their individual needs. Our team were very keen to find out more about autism so that they can make the experience of trying and buying shoes as easy as possible. Having autism awareness training with Daisy Chain has really helped the team to understand how they can deliver the best service to anyone affected by autism.’

Ginny Jones, Charles Clinkard training and development manager, said: ‘Our staff are highly trained in fitting shoes for children but we wanted to go a step further and formalise that training and ensure our staff were fully aware of autism and had a depth of understanding of the needs of the child and the parents.’

The company got in touch with Daisy Chain and sent all their branch managers to the charity for autism training before subsequently rolling it out to all their sales consultants. Parents can make an appointment in advance and advise staff of their individual needs.

Ginny explained: ‘We ask parents what special requirements they need, so we can dim the lights, turn off the music and TV screens in preparation for their arrival. We make sure we find out if there is a specific style of shoe that is favoured and approximate size so we can make sure we have the stock in the branch they wish to visit. We can open earlier on the morning before the official opening time so they can be in the store alone without other customers and advise when not to make an appointment in hectic times such as the back to school rush. We also understand that if something happens on that day, appointments may need to be cancelled at short notice.’

Parent Nichola Binks, from Stockton, took her son Thomas, four, to Charles Clinkard to get his shoes fitted. Thomas is on the waiting list to undergo diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder and shoe fitting is one of the things he struggles to cope with.

Nichola said: ‘We had previously had a bad experience with another retailer so it was hard to get Thomas into a shoe shop to get his shoes fitted. It was fantastic to have the personal service and understanding at Charles Clinkard because it meant I was able to prepare Thomas in advance and go in at a quiet time. The staff were so understanding and patient that it made it a completely different experience. It’s important that children’s shoes fit properly so it is something we needed to do.’

Daisy Chain can offer bespoke training to companies and organisations which teaches staff to be fully aware of autism and what it is and make sure the work and customer environment is a safe and happy place for anyone with autism.

Stuart Dexter, Daisy Chain chief executive, said: ‘Businesses and services can make a huge difference to the experiences of families affected by autism by making some easy changes, being aware of how mainstream environments can be stressful and making a few adjustments to remove those triggers. Daisy Chain supports over 2,000 local families so it is clear there is a demand for autism friendly services and it is excellent to see a family business like Charles Clinkard taking training awareness to the next level across all their stores.’

Charles Clinkard is also sponsoring Daisy Chain’s Open Day which takes place at Calf Fallow Farm on Bank Holiday Monday, May 7. It’s a free fun activity day for families to visit and enjoy the petting farm, go-karts, play areas and entertainment. It starts at 12noon until 4pm.

Businesses and organisations can contact Daisy Chain for information on autism awareness and training on 01642 531248.

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