Taking your young child to have new school shoes fitted can be challenging for any parent, but it can be especially challenging for parents of children on the autism spectrum. Children who don't like to be touched, who find busy shopping centres overwhelming, or who have trouble understanding how to wait their turn.
But this is just the sort of challenge that confronts Nicole Burgess at the beginning of every school year when it's time to take her son, Riley, aged 7 to try on new school shoes.
"Riley was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. He doesn't like waiting or being touched by strangers," said Nicola, "So trying on new shoes in a store where he has to wait his turn, then sit still while a stranger puts shoes on his feet can be really frustrating for him - and sometimes leads to behaviour that people who don't understand autism can find confronting."
Shoes & Soxs and Autism Spectrum Australia (aspect) launched their new national partnership this week, which aims to make trying on new school shoes a more accessible experience.
Lisa Shalem, General manager for Shoes & Soxs said that the partnership just made sense.
"We had a store manager come to us with the idea about a year ago, after witnessing the difficult a customer had with a shoe fitting for their child on the autism spectrum. It was a light bulb moment for us - of course, why haven't we thought about this for our customers before!?"
"We have always tried to be as inclusive as possible and this just seemed like a natural next step," said Lisa.
" So we approached Aspect in April last year and we have been working closely with them over the last nine months to provide training to our staff in how to recognise and respond to autism, and to make our store environments more autism friendly."
Lauren Rolfe, is a project officer for Aspect's Autism Friendly Australia unit and has been providing Shoes & Soxs staff with training and advice.
"For an individual on the autism spectrum visiting a shopping centre to try clothes and shoes on can be extremely challenging and exhausting. BBut by providing just a few supports - like a visual story to prepare children for waiting and navigating the show shopping experience, opening before and after hours, when the store is quieter, and making staff aware of potential sensory issues - you can open up a new, calmer, world for these individuals and their families. 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. We really congratulate Shoes & Soxs for taking these steps - it will make a world of differece to so many families," Lauren said, and Nicola Burgess agrees.
"Anything that can make these types of experiences more accessible and friendly for kids like Riley is such a positive move."
All 33 Shoes & Soxs stores nationally are participating as well as many Myer concessions, wit staff trained in providing a more accessible shoe fitting experience for your child.
For more information about shoe fittings at your local Shoes & Sox store click here