By Emma Tilsley

TV NATURALIST Chris Packham is backing a scheme which is bidding to make shopping a “less challenging” experience for those with autism.

The Springwatch presenter, pictured, who lives in the New Forest, has Asperger’s syndrome, an autism disorder which affects how people perceive the world around them and means that they can struggle in social situations.

Chris, who was diagnosed with the condition in 2005, described shops as “a difficult environment”.

The National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour is about creating an autism friendly shopping experience and is designed to show shops and businesses the simple steps that they can take to make shopping a much more pleasant experience for autistic customers.

From October 6 to 13 Autism Hours will be staged with shops turning down music, dimming bright lights, and sharing information about autism.

Businesses backing the scheme include Entertainer, Sainsbury’s, Argos, Lloyds Bank, Halifax, Bank of Scotland, Co-op and Schuh.

There are around 700,000 diagnosed autistic people in the UK and 64% of those avoid shops, including Chris, who is a National Autistic Society Ambassador

“I rarely go into supermarkets. I find that environment really challenging, all of the bright lights, the confusion of the enormous complexity of goods in there, plus all the smells and the sounds,” he said.

“It’s a difficult environment. And that’s why I’m very keen to support Autism Hour, those shops which offer an hour where they make the whole atmosphere a lot more relaxing for autistic people.”

Mark Lever, chief executive at the National Autistic Society, said: “It’s wonderful to see so many well-known high street retailers have already signed up – and ready to make the world a more autism friendly place.

“Autistic people represent a huge part of our society and it is a disgrace that 64 per cent of autistic people avoid the shops. And, shockingly, 28 per cent of autistic people have been asked to leave a public place for reasons associated for their autism. They and their families want and deserve to have the opportunity to go to the shops, just like anyone else.

More than 5,000 stores have signed up to the scheme. Find a shop near you at