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Maggie, 11, was bullied and had to find a new school. Mum tells how Maggie found the strength to leave the house again

Posted on 23 November 2017 under News

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Melbourne mum Wendy Proimos says a shopping centre visit can be a daunting experience.

Daughter Maggie and son Ted were diagnosed with autism at 3 1/2 and Wendy says there can be huge challenges, particularly for Maggie, in coping with sensory overload.

Wendy says of Maggie: “It took time for us to find the right school to support Maggie. Funding, then finding the right school, are a real challenge.

Channel 9 News drops in on the Proimos family

“Maggie started at a new school this year. We had to find a new school because of bullying. She is now so much happier.”

The following story on the Proimos’, by Neelima Choahan, first appeared in The Age

For Maggie Proimos, being in a big shopping centre like Northland can be a sensory overload, causing anxiety.

But on Sunday it proved to be a different world for the 11-year-old.

Gone were the bright lights, the loud music and the crowds. In its place was the store’s first ever Sensory Shopping Day.

Northland Shopping Centre has teamed with AMAZE, the peak organisation for people with autism, and Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre to give people the chance to shop without a sensory overload.

Maggie, who bought some Christmas presents at Target, said it felt like it was “her own shop”.

“It was great because it was really quiet,” Maggie said.

“Going to shops can be overwhelming because it makes me so anxious – lots of people and long lines. This was really quiet and not overwhelming at all.”

Sensitive Santa is a huge hit with shoppers.

Her mother, Wendy Proimos, said the whole experience was very relaxing.

“Lately Maggie has not wanted to go out at all, so this is amazing, full stop,” she said.

Also on hand was ‘Sensitive Santa’, a Mr Claus trained specifically to interact with children on the autism spectrum.

Families could book in for a 10-minute slot with Santa – without having to queue up.

Northland Shopping Centre guest experience manager Jenny Pike said they had a strong connection with the autism community.

“We are always looking at ways we can assist and come up with new, innovative ways to help them,” Ms Pike said.

“We had AMAZE … come and conduct an environmental audit … [with] the eyes of a person on the spectrum.”

The centre opened early, lighting was partially reduced, music was turned off and staff were told to greet customers non-verbally during the Sensory Shopping Day.

There was also a sign at the cash registers telling people to maintain a metre-wide distance to give more space to customers.

AMAZE chief executive Fiona Sharkie said Northland was paving the way for greater understanding about how everyone could make simple changes to help make a more autism-friendly world.

“The everyday trip to the shops is something many of us don’t think twice about,” she said.

“However, for autistic people and their families it can be very stressful.

“The bright lights, noisy environment and bustling crowds can lead to sensory overload for autistic people, making these everyday experiences very difficult.

“Simple changes can make a huge difference for people with autism.”

Northland Shopping Centre will have Sensitive Santa every day from  November 19 to 24; and from November 27 to December 1 from 8am to 9am.