Loudspeakers, lighting, knives and forks scratching on plates - the ambience of a shopping centre used to create major anxiety for Tauranga's Aiden Winton-Mason.
Visiting shopping centres can be tricky for the 10-year-old who was diagnosed with severe autism at age 2.
Aiden will now have a safe place to chill out when a new quiet room for people who have autism or other sensory processing issues opens next week as part of Bayfair Shopping Centre's $115 million expansion.
Developed with guidance from Autism New Zealand, the new quiet room is specifically created for people who can become easily overwhelmed in bright and busy environments.
The room can also be used for people who experience anxiety, panic attacks or fall temporarily unwell and need a calm space away from the noise of the shopping centre.
The quiet room will officially open to the public on November 12 and will be accessible by using a personalised electronic access card that people can register for at the customer service desk.
Aiden's mother Dorne Mason said at the beginning her son could not handle visiting a busy shopping mall.
"Originally we would go there and it would be like he was stuck in concrete. You could see the fear in his face. He would say he couldn't do it.
"As soon as you walk in and see those lights alone is enough to trigger it, [as well as] loudspeakers, knives and forks on plates, people cleaning etc."
Mason said Aiden had more of an understanding of his autism now that he was older and could tell when he started to get anxious.
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"He had just started to handle it, but it took years. But the mall has got a lot bigger than it used to be.
"Before we would only be able to go to McDonald's or TimeZone. At least now there is a place where he knows he is safe and we can probably shop there all day."
The new quiet room would help children or adults living with autism to feel part of the community, Mason said.
"It will still give them an opportunity to want to go out somewhere," she said. "Hopefully it works. We need this here."
Bayfair centre manager Steve Ellingford said it was tricky for families affected by sensory processing and autism spectrum disorders to go to busy public places.
"The quiet room provides a safe haven and allows them to continue their shopping, especially as we head into the busy holiday period."
Ellingford said the quiet room had been planned for some time and he was pleased to finally be able to offer the new space to shoppers.
"We have also opened a second parents' room so mums and dads can have another peaceful and private space to change, nurse and calm their young ones," he said.
In a similar initiative, Countdown stores across New Zealand offer customers a low-sensory Quiet Hour every Wednesday from 2.30pm to 3.30pm for shoppers with sensory needs.
For an hour each week, the lighting throughout the stores are reduced, in-store radio is turned off, checkout volumes are lowered, trolley collection and shelf-stocking is kept to a bare minimum, and there are no announcements over the loudspeaker except in emergencies.
Papamoa Plaza centre manager David Hill said the quiet hour had proven popular with many customers looking for a relaxing, quiet shopping outing in a traditionally "buzzing environment".
"By reducing noise, light and other distractions, in-store, during this time allows a sense of community belonging and integration rather than ordering from home or being totally reliant on family, friends and support people to do the shopping."
Tauranga Crossing centre manager Andrew Wadsworth said the shopping mall environment could be overwhelming for some.
Wadsworth said it was important to have spaces for people to relax, which is why the new mega-mall offered seating and rest areas inside and outside the shopping centre.
"We are aware of the rising number of malls internationally and here in New Zealand that have quiet rooms for visitors with sensory processing disorders, who experience anxiety or generally feel unwell, as well as those looking for a place to observe personal beliefs.
"We understand the importance of such spaces within a mall and this is certainly a consideration for us moving forward."
Autism New Zealand chief executive Dane Dougan said Bayfair Shopping Centre's quiet room initiative showed "understanding of our community".
"It is something that we see as very important and will make a big difference in the experience," he said.
People can view Bayfair's new quiet room and sign up for access at the official opening after hours on November 12.
All mall audio will be switched off, centre directories in Braille and mobility scooters and wheelchairs will be available. A New Zealand Sign Language representative has also been invited to attend.