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The 'sensory-friendly' hour at Sobeys at St. Clair Beach is being praised, leading an expansion at other stores in Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent.

The Sobeys store at 19 Amy Croft Dr. in Windsor first offered the sensory-friendly grocery shopping experience in June, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Wednesday night.

Sobeys stores in Amherstburg and Chatham joined the nation-wide initiative last month, offering the two-hour same experience on Wednesday nights.

During sensory-friendly shopping hours, stores will have reduced lighting, no P.A. or scanner sounds and lower department noise.

Robert Hayes, the operator of Sobeys at St. Clair Beach, says the idea is to provide a better supermarket shopping experience for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

By creating inclusive spaces, Hayes believes it will also help customers with sensitivity to light and sound.

Officials from the Thames Valley Children's Centre were also at Sobeys on Wednesday night to educate the public about ASD.

Autism Program Consultant, Natalie McLellan, says this initiative can be a life-changing shopping experience.

"If you have a child or if you yourself are affected by sensory things, this is a place that nobody will be judging you," says McLellan. "They are ready for you, they are walking around. All the staff are prepared for the fact that someone may be uncomfortable how overwhelming this type of environment can be. "

According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Center for Disease Control, one in 59 children is diagnosed with autism. Diagnosed autism rates have increased dramatically in recent years. In 2000, just one in 150 children was identified as on the Autism Spectrum Disorder.