Understanding visitor needs. An experience shared.

Understanding Visitor needs.

Understanding visitor needs is an area that requires constant attention, constant nurturing, measuring and reviewing.  Whether you work within a tourist attraction, high street shop or own an online business, understanding your visitor’s or customer’s needs is what will create a solid foundation of a business approach.

This is a common sense approach that is proudly taken by many businesses, marketing teams and customer service teams.  It isn’t however, an approach modelled across the board.  I would like to share with you an experience that my son had recently, although he is unable to explain it to you I would like to translate the experience as i’ve come to learn from him over these last 15 years.

The story as it was

We’d gone out on a family day trip, one we were all looking forward to and had planned the best time of day and best day of the week for reduced sensory overload for our oldest son who has learning disabilities.

The attraction was busy, crowded but manageable with movement albeit navigating around crowds was common. By lunch time it was busier and noisier and my son was trying to focus on me whilst asking me a question.  Having a speech impediment making himself clear takes some effort.

As my son was walking away from a particular place a gentleman walked towards him whilst looking in the wrong direction and knocked into him.  My son’s first reaction is to say ‘Ouch’ this isn’t shouted but it will be loud enough for people close to him to hear.  The response from the gentleman was ‘For god’s sake,’ as he walked off. My son heard this and I saw his head lower and his eyes go to the floor. As I walked forward to reach him and support him (I will explain), a member of the attraction staff supported the gentleman’s behaviour by smiling with him, raising his eyebrows and pursing his lips at my sons behaviour.

This is what my son’s experience was.

The build up to the day was really exciting, we had the full itinerary planned for my son’s comfort and sense of control. Google earth had prevailed with routes, maps and the birds eye view so it was all familiar driving there.  But the level of excitement and expectation, anxiety and nerves stretches him and we soon have to start using our now well rehearsed management strategies.  All is going well. Eventually the sensory richness becomes overload and we recognise this and take a break using the resources we know work.

What is happening is his nervous system is becoming heightened and in order to cope with the rushing of information at super speed that he can’t keep up with processing in his brain, he starts to shut down in order to cope.  We can see this with his body language, through his speech and of course his behaviour.  Rarely now does his overwhelm become a public display, we have worked hard with him over the years to support him to release his pressure cooker feelings in more constructive ways however his brain is still trying to make sense of things that only a few moments ago he could make sense of.

Suddenly there’s a different language all around him – or that’s what it feels and sounds like.  Then there’s his nervous system; it’s feeling unorganised and sparky and his nerve endings hurt, his cranium is feeling tight and the loud noises are trapping him. It’s a bit like an assault on his system. So when someone knocks into him it hurts him. It isn’t his fault and he doesn’t know how to suppress his response for the sale of not offending someone who has hurt him so he says it.

Understanding visitor needs

My son wasn’t being rude, he wasn’t being offensive he was feeling overwhelmed.  We know our son and we know how to deactivate him in minutes and bring him back to a more balanced and centred sense of coping where suddenly the language he hears around him again is the one he speaks. Where things have come into order again and he is feeling more in control. Where he has his safe family around him that directs him and gives him the time and patience he needs.

I wanted to write this because if you notice a situation where someone is feeling slightly overwhelmed and responds in a way that you feel is in someway different, uncharacteristic or is clearly a behaviour due to overwhelm or anxiety.  Don’t roll your eyes, purse your lips or shake your head.  I’m not saying dive in an go for the rescue, chances are the parents or carers will create the immediate environment necessary to manage the situation. Just go on with your day, give them the space and respect, show solidarity if you feel there is something practical you can do such as ask if they would like you to go for help. Look after their bags for them whilst they manage the situation or help them find an area where they can go and find the space to support who they need to support.

Just take a second to think what would be the action that shows compassion, wisdom and yes courage because it takes all of those 3 to be any type of parent let alone a parent of a child with disability.

Thank you in advance because when someone comes over and gives us a minute of their time to offer their compassion, it makes a world of difference to us.