It can be difficult to shop with an autistic child.
They may have trouble understanding what is happening around them, they may become overwhelmed by the noise and crowds, or they may have a meltdown in the middle of the store.
Here are some tips to help make shopping with your autistic child easier and ways to create a more autism-friendly shopping experience.
Why is it Difficult to Shop with an Autistic Child?
Autistic children don’t see shopping the same as their neurotypical peers. Some difficulties they face include:
For many autistic children, bright lights, loud noises, and strong smells can be overwhelming. A lot is happening around them which can make shopping a difficult and even painful experience.
Crowds and long lines
Large crowds of people can be overwhelming for anyone, but for an autistic child, it can cause a lot of anxiety.
Crowds also create noise which can be difficult for an autistic child to filter out.
Change in routine
Shopping is a deviation from the normal routine which can be difficult for an autistic child to handle. They may become agitated or have a meltdown because of the change in schedule.
Meltdowns are a common occurrence for autistic children. They may happen when an autistic child is overwhelmed, frustrated, or tired. Meltdowns can look different for every child but may include crying, yelling, hitting, or self-injurious behaviors.
Many autistic children experience high levels of anxiety. This may be due to the sensory overload they feel or from knowing that a meltdown is possible. Anxiety can make shopping an even more difficult experience.
Tips for Shopping with an Autistic Child
By understanding what is difficult for your child during a shopping trip, you can be better prepared to handle any challenges that may come up.
Here are some tips to make shopping with an autistic child easier:
Prepare your Child for the Change in Schedule
The day before the shopping trip , tell your child about your plans. Explain that they will be going shopping and tell them what time you will leave. This will help your child prepare for the change in routine.
Make a Plan with your Child
Before you leave for the store, sit down with your child and explain what will happen. Use words and pictures to help them understand the steps of the trip. This will help reduce anxiety and make the trip more predictable.
Include what will happen once you get home by creating a social story.
For example, say we will get into the car, drive to the store and park in the lot. Once we enter the store we will choose a wagon, collect all of the items on our list and head to the checkout line. Once we pay for the items we will bag them and place them in the car. Once we drive home, we will undo and put away the items and then play a game of your choice.
Applied Pressure Techniques
Applied pressure techniques can help an autistic child with sensory processing disorder. Things like weighted blankets, vests, or stuffed animals can provide deep pressure input which can help calm the nervous system.
Bring along a fidget toy
If your child becomes overwhelmed, having something they love to focus on can help calm them down.
Fidget toys can be a helpful distraction for an autistic child. They may help them focus and stay calm while shopping
Reward them for Good Behavior
If your child does well on the shopping trip, be sure to reward them. This could be a favorite food, toy, or activity.
Rewarding good behavior will help encourage your child to continue following the rules while shopping.
Keep Trips Short
Autistic children can become overwhelmed easily, so it is best to keep trips short. This will help reduce the chances of a meltdown occurring.
Start with two or three items. If you have to make a larger purchase, break it up into multiple trips.
This will help your child stay calm and avoid becoming overwhelmed.
Shopping with an autistic child can be a difficult and frustrating experience. However, by following these tips, you can make the trip more manageable for both you and your child. Remember to be patient and understanding, and most importantly, have fun!