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Tips for Taking your Autist Shopping

Ah, the dreaded trip to the grocery store or Wal-mart. It has nothing to do with the money you have to spend, but rather the dread revolves entirely around the meltdown issue.

Do remember that autists can have intense sensory issues.  Shopping centers have bright flourescent lights, buildings that cause echo (especially public restrooms), tall shelves with endless items, and lots of people bustling about. Noise and lighting can cause autists great pain and distress. If your autist exhibits meltdowns every time you try to shop with him, do consider leaving him at home in comfort.  It has nothing to do with other people accepting him or not, but everything to do with his comfort level.  I wouldn't want someone constantly exposing me to something that hurt me either.

If, however, you find your child enjoys going to the store, even if you have an occassional meltdown, you should take her!  Here's some tips to reduce shopping meltdowns:

First, don't just up and leave your home. This is a sure way to get a meltdown. Instead, 'warn' her about your shopping trip way in advance. For toddlers and preschoolers, a picture of the store can be helpful. Tell her verbally, show her the picture, let her absorb the information and remind her throughout the day.  We used to warn our little girl as much as 4 hours in advance! We would then remind her each hour until the final hour when we would remind her every ten minutes.

Take along items that bring your child comfort.  If it's dinosaurs, or books, or stuffed animals, or even an electronic device, bring it!  If it's all of the above, well, bring a full back pack!  Have your child sit in the back of the cart, where he will have enough room to spread out and play or self-stim.  Being busy or self-stimming while you push him in the cart can be so relaxing for him, and you.  He will also be able to look downward at his objects instead of into the lights.  He may even be able to block out loud noise because he is busy.  Be sure to bring a snack in a baggie and a drink in a sippie cup.  Being hungry or thirsty away from home can trigger a meltdown.

When you're through shopping and it's time to leave; once again, don't just up and go!  Instead, warn your child that you will be heading to the check out stand in 20 minutes. Remind him every 5 minutes so that he is not surprised.  

If you start this routine early, in toddlerhood, you will have several years of smooth shopping.  And, it is also a built-in safety measure since your child will not be running around the store getting lost, which is a constant fear for parents of autists. 

Give yourselves plenty of opportunities to practice the routine so that your child can learn to depend on you to 'warn' her and therby eliminating those surprises (and meltdowns) and do tweak the routine to fit your own needs and your child's sensory issues.

Our daughter is 7 and still rides in the back of the cart with her books, Webkinz, a baggie of nuts and raisins, and a cup of water with a straw.  I have been happily shopping with her for years....without meltdowns!

Visit me at
Where Ashi tells our story of autism.

Annie Eskeldson writes for families of young autists and has a 2nd children's book to be released, February 13, 2011.  Ashi: In a Class all by Myself.   
( 1 minute book trailor)

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