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Kent Autistic Trust warns of difficulties face coverings in shops could pose to people on spectrum


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It will be almost impossible for many on the autistic spectrum to go to the supermarket if they are made to wear face masks, a disability campaigner has warned.

The government announced yesterday that as of next Friday, shoppers will have to cover their noses and mouths inside stores - or risk having to pay a £100 fine.

Watch the Kent Autistic Trust's Emilymay Miles talk of the issues face masks could pose to people on the spectrum

The list of those exempt from the new measure has not yet been published, but it is expected to be in line with the guidance for public transport.

Emilymay Miles of the Kent Autistic Trust is calling for the government to exclude those on the spectrum in order to allow them not to wear face coverings.

“Shops inherently are a sensory overload for people on the spectrum,” she explained.

“There’s poor lighting and lots of noise and smells, so they’re already having to try to deal with the environment that they’re in.

A young woman wearing a mask while shopping. Stock picture
A young woman wearing a mask while shopping. Stock picture

“For some of them, having to deal with the sensory overload of having their face covered would make it near-on impossible for them to go into a supermarket.”

Ms Miles says that many people on the spectrum would struggle to cope with the sensation of the fabric of the coverings against their skin, stressing that this can cause anxiety or panic.

She also states that masks would inhibit them from recognizing others and make it more difficult for them to converse.

“If they focus on people’s lips, masks would reduce the likelihood of them being able to understand what’s being said to them by someone wearing a mask,” she said.

“I’m aware of a lot of people wearing them on public transport, but other people find it really disorientating.”

"For some of them, having to deal with the sensory overload of having their face covered would make it near-on impossible for them to go into a supermarket..."

The list of those allowed not to wear a covering on public transport, includes anyone unable to don one "because of any mental illness or impairment, or disability", as well as those who would experience "severe distress" from doing so.

This means that some autistic people who fall under those categories are exempt.

While to talking Parliament yesterday, health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Children under 11 and those with certain disabilities will be exempt” from the new rules.

Anyone who does not fall under those categories could be refused entry into a shop and issued a fine by the police if they refuse to wear a face covering.

Ms Miles continued: “We’re hoping that there will be the same exemptions for people on the spectrum as there is on public transport.

People with autism would struggle in shops wearing a mask. Stock picture
People with autism would struggle in shops wearing a mask. Stock picture

“I’m hoping the government will clarify who’s exempt and how best to support those who are exempt before it comes in next week.”

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