Children with autism may find shopping centers and grocery stores overwhelming. These places typically have large crowds and disturbing noises that a child on the spectrum can find disturbing or frightening. Thus, most parents have difficulties shopping with a child with autism.
Here are some reasons why shopping tends to be unenjoyable for children with autism:
Why Is It Difficult To Go Shopping With a Child With Autism?
Shopping with a child on the spectrum can be a stressful experience. As a parent, you might be worried that your child might inappropriately address or touch other shoppers. You might also be apprehensive about your child having a meltdown or tantrum in the middle of the store.
Children with autism experience shopping differently from their neurotypical counterparts. They might find it difficult to navigate due to several factors, including:
Sensory Processing Disorder
Most children with autism have sensory processing disorders that make their senses oversensitive to stimulation. When exposed to excessive noises, bright lights, or strong smells, a child with autism can feel overwhelmed. This phenomenon is often referred to as sensory overload.
Risk of Meltdowns
Meltdowns are common among children on the spectrum. It happens when a child with autism is exposed to overwhelming situations or emotions they can’t process independently. As a result, the child loses control over his behavior and ends up yelling, crying, screaming, or even committing self-injury.
It’s common for children with autism to experience high levels of anxiety in unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations. This can make your and your child’s visit to the shopping center more difficult.
Children with autism thrive when they have structure and organization in their lives. When an aspect of their routine changes, it can feel terrifying and uncomfortable for them.
Shopping can be one of those deviations that happen in your child’s usual schedule. Visiting a strange place with large crowds and loud noises can feel bizarre and scary to your child.
Luckily, there are ways parents can improve their little one’s shopping experience.
Tips for Shopping With a Child With Autism
Parents can help make shopping trips much more pleasant for their child with autism by employing tried and tested strategies such as the following:
Prepare for the Trip
While shopping might be a small undertaking for most people, for a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it’s not the same case. Before you even think about bringing your child to the store, it’s important that they know what to expect.
Talk to them about what to expect from a typical shopping center. Let them know why and when you’re going there. Finally, answer any questions they want to ask and accept any feedback they might have without judgment.
Communicating with children on the spectrum can be difficult. Consider using social stories, visual aids, or even flashcards during your conversation to help your child understand you better.
Use Applied Pressure Techniques
Deep pressure therapy provides a calming effect on children with sensory processing disorders. When used correctly, it can help reduce stress and anxiety in individuals with autism. It can even make a short visit to the grocery store more bearable for the patient.
There are several ways you can administer deep pressure therapy to your child, such as swaddling, making your child wear a weighted vest, or giving your child a firm hug.
Give Your Child a Play-by-Play
Let your child know exactly what’s going to happen during your trip – give them a play-by-play of your “strategy.” Let them know what you’re doing in the store and when you’ll be doing them.
One way to do this is by creating a list of steps for your child to follow. It could look something like this:
- Step 1: Drive to the grocery store.
- Step 2: Grab a cart and go inside the store.
- Step 3: Gather all the items on the grocery list.
- Step 4: Push the cart to the checkout counter and pay the cashier.
- Step 5: Take the groceries back to the car and place them in the trunk.
- Step 6: Drive home.
- Step 7: Arrive home, unpack the items bought, and play a game of their choice.
You can write other things on your child’s list besides the steps for your shopping trip. For instance, consider including a list of challenges or obstacles that your child should expect. This could be anything from loud noises to cold temperatures.
Let Them Be Part of the Experience
Allowing your child to play an active role in your shopping experience may improve the way they see the activity. Little things like letting your child push the cart or asking them to pick items off the shelf are two examples of how you can easily involve your child in your shopping.
Reward Good Behavior
Children with autism can feel motivated to repeat an action or activity if they’re rewarded for it. For instance, allowing your child to play an extra hour of their favorite game after a successful trip to the grocery store may encourage them to make the trip with you again.
Rewards don’t necessarily have to be tangible. A small smile or a simple “good job” can go a long way for a child with ASD.
Keep Trips Short
Keep your shopping trips short and sweet, especially during the first few visits. Children with autism are easily overwhelmed by noises, people, and smells – things that are terrifyingly abundant in shopping centers. Prevent meltdowns and outbursts by slowly lengthening your visits to the store.
Bring Items of Comfort
A comfort item can help distract your child when they’re feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated. It can also help calm their nervous system, preventing outbursts and meltdowns. If your child has a favorite stuffed animal or toy, consider bringing it during your shopping trip.
Shopping can be an overwhelmingly terrifying activity for children with autism. Fortunately, you can help your child cope with the experience more easily by using calming practices and strategies during your visit. Encourage your child to explore and venture into new environments so they can develop useful and long-lasting life skills.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.
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