The rich tapestry of neurodiversity

The human race is a tapestry made up of unique neurotypes, with a rich diversity of neurodistinct individuals each navigating the world in their own way.

Just like our fingerprints, our brains are unique because they are all wired differently. People who are wired more similarly to each other (neurotypical) share more closely aligned cognitive processing patterns and tend to respond to their environment in similar ways. People whose wiring diverges from the majority (neurodivergent) tend to experience life differently, with greater sensory sensitivities and distinct cognitive processing capabilities.

It is estimated that between 20-30% of the global population is neurodivergent. That’s around 1 in 5 employees in your workforce and 1 in 5 customers who enter a store or a shopping district with a hidden difference that will affect their experience – either positively or negatively. This applies to everyday scenarios such as going to work, shopping for groceries or catching public transport.

So how are retailers creating more inclusive experiences? Here are some examples.

Quiet Hour: a dedicated time when sound volume is reduced and lighting is dimmed to counter sensory overwhelm and provide for a more calm shopping experience. Coles and Woolworths both offer low-sensory shopping experiences. In 2021, Tesco launched its quiet hour as part of the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour. Morrisons, another UK supermarket chain, operates its ‘Quieter Mornings’ every Saturday. Curry’s, an electronic goods retailer in the UK, recently launched a quiet hour in its 300-plus stores every day between Monday and Friday.

Empowering customers with hidden disabilities: Providing customers with agency over how they identify in public is an important part of the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower program. The sunflower program was developed by employees at Gatwick Airport to assist passengers with non-visible disabilities. It is designed to provide a discreet communication tool for customers with hidden differences, at the customer’s discretion, and can be found in retailers Tesco’s and Curry’s and entertainment and sporting venues around the world. In Australia, the Program has been embraced by the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Yarra Trams and several airports. Westfield Sydney is a proud supporter and the Program is likely to launch in other shopping precincts in the coming 12 months.

Sensory maps and sensory-friendly spaces: Curry’s sensory maps are activated full time to provide assistance to customers outside its quiet hour. Examples closer to home include Kmart, who launched its quiet space 2020, catering for shoppers and their families by providing a space to decompress and regulate. Stockland is deploying inclusive, and gender-neutral amenities and quiet rooms. And Bunnings recently activated sensory maps that help customers navigate their warehouses.

These examples are all part of a gradual shift towards incorporating design aspects that create more inclusive shopping experiences for customers of all neurotypes. Retailers willing to explore this hidden customer segment can deliver an easier, engaging and inclusive experience both in-store and online.

Do the research and ask the questions to consider how you could make your shopping and employment experiences more inclusive of the rich tapestry of neurodiversity.


Neurodistinct – an ‘umbrella’ term that includes neurodevelopmental conditions including Dyslexia, Autism and ADHD.


Natalie Phillips-Mason is Founder and Lead Consultant at Inclusive Change. She is passionate about workplace inclusion and belonging, with a special interest in neuroinclusion, and believes that diverse thinking leads to richer results for organisations, employees and customers.

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