Belfast Telegraph

Five Northern Ireland businesses supporting people living with autism

AJ Pratt at an Autism NI event in Belfast
AJ Pratt at an Autism NI event in Belfast

World Autism Awareness Day takes place today, 2 April, with the day aimed at putting a spotlight on the hurdles that people living with autism face every day.

With the essence of the day in mind, we thought we’d showcase some of the supportive and meaningful ways local businesses are doing their bit to make every day experiences more accessible and more enjoyable for families and those living with autism.

1. Dundonald Ice Bowl

Dundonald Ice Bowl

An adrenaline-fueled spot known for the odd high-pitched scream of excitement, the Ice Bowl isn’t the easiest place for someone with autism spectrum disorder to navigate. However, the Ice Bowl has made the experience a little easier with a handy guide parents can read with kids ahead of their arrival, detailing what the space looks like and what is on offer.

In addition, a fast track queue means children with autism are given priority during busy periods. And if kids just want a break from all the excitement, a dedicated sensory room has been created to give kids a quiet, safe place to go. The centre’s soft-play offering, Indiana Land also runs an autism-friendly session every Friday evening from 8:00pm -9:00pm.

2. Lidl Northern Ireland

The community-focused retailer has announced the arrival of a carefully-selected range of sensory and soothing products this week. Among others, the new products which arrive in-store today include an LED Projection Night Light (£4.99), which is aimed at enhancing visual and audible sensory stimulation, this gentle light projects colourful stars on to ceilings and walls while playing relaxing music.

LED Projection Night Light 4.99.jpg

In addition, Lidl NI has teamed up with Assistance Dogs Northern Ireland (ADNI) to put a dog through assistance training which will support a child with autism, particularly in public and social situations.

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All assistance dogs are already fully welcome in all stores and at Lidl’s 'autism aware quiet evenings', which launched in 2018 and take place every Tuesday between 6.00pm and 8.00pm. Store staff are trained to make numerous sensory adjustments to classify the store as being autism aware during this time. Adjustments include reduced lighting, no in-store announcements, no music, priority queuing for those with autism or a child with autism, till sounds lowered and extra assistance on request.

3. Movie House

The Movie House on Belfast’s Dublin Road.

With four locations across Northern Ireland, Movie House is one of Northern Ireland’s most-popular cinema chains. Since 2016, it has been showcasing the Hollywood blockbusters in an adapted, more conscious way to ensure that children with autism don’t miss out on the fun. During these screenings, lights are kept on, audiences are free to move around freely, volume is turned down and no ads or trailers are played.

The next Autism Friendly Screening will show Disney’s 2019 version of Dumbo at 11:00am on April 6th and 7th at Cityside (Yorkgate), Glengormley and Coleraine. Tickets cost just £3.50 and CEA cards can be used.

Similarly, Queens Film Theatre often rosters autism friendly screenings on its schedules.

4. Charles Hurst

The acclaimed car dealer group, Charles Hurst, achieved an Autism NI Impact Award in 2018 for its on-going initiatives inspired by those living with autism. All staff undertake extensive autism awareness training to ensure customers affected by autism receive a positive experience.

Within the showrooms there have been several changes including literature about autism, pre-visit information made available and the provision of sensory packs including ear defenders and fidget toys. Each dealership also has a quiet area as well as a designated Quiet Autism Evening once per week.

5. Roe Park Resort Hotel

The Limavady-based hotel recently launched an autism-friendly room for guests with additional needs. The room allows families to dine-in their room, access special lighting and more. All Resort staff have undergone training to ensure they can best support visitors.

With the above just a snapshot of how Northern Ireland is becoming more aware of the needs of those living with autism, it’s clear we’re moving in the right direction. For more information on how you can support those living with autism visit

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