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How ‘Quiet Spaces’ Can Become Sanctuaries for People with Sensory Needs

For some, the hustle and bustle of busy places can be too much to bear. While it might be unnoticeable to most, individuals with increased sensory needs can find loud, constant noises overwhelming and stressful. In recent years, knowledge and understanding of the sensory needs that autistic or otherwise neurodiverse individuals have has led to the introduction of quiet shopping hours, quiet movie hours, and even quiet dinner hours in some locations.

A new community driven initiative in Armidale is taking this a step further by creating a permanent quiet space in the CBD for people to retreat to and relax. Decked out with pillows, couches, and tables and chairs, the Quiet Space provides busy locals with a quiet area to relax and re-centre themselves. Nestled in the Armidale Plaza, the Quiet Space is run by April Simone and a collection of volunteers, with local businesses sponsoring the space to keep it open.

A local art therapist, April was inspired to start the Quiet Space in part by the needs of her clients, but also by her own experiences.

“A lot of the people who use my service have a huge range of needs. What I noticed in a lot of those people is that life is busy and life is chaotic, and it’s quite noisy – literally with noise, and internal chatter. So it partly came from noticing that in the people that I work with, but also my own desire. When I want to go downtown and I’m sitting in a cafe and the coffee grinder’s really loud, and the smoothie maker’s really loud, and there’s chatter – I can’t quite concentrate if I’m trying to work, or if I just want a little bit of quiet. There’s that external noise that makes it just that little bit harder.”

While there is some growing awareness of differing sensory needs, ‘quiet hours’ have yet to be implemented everywhere, though large supermarket chains like Coles and Woolworths have introduced them. Access to spaces that recognise and consider different types of needs is still growing. For April, having access to these types of spaces is important.

“As we rush through every day, we aren’t as aware or as focused on what we’re needing to put our attention on every day. We’re just speeding through. By slowing down and getting used to that slower lifestyle, or introducing or creating space for quiet times, you realise just how fast the brain is actually going. By slowing down, you realise there’s more space for the beauty of life to come through. There’s finally space in the brain to reflect on what is good about life, rather than just rushing around and being overwhelmed.”

The Quiet Space’s open hours are subject to volunteer availability, but generally Monday to Friday between 10:30am and 2:30pm, with shorter hours on Saturday from 9:00am to 12:45pm.

Image provided by April Simon/The Quiet Space