Shopping with autism

Shopping is a bit of a ritualistic activity in my part of the world.  Nearly every weekend families, couples and individuals flock into our town centre, filling up the car parks and heading for the indoor shopping mall.  And with this influx of people our town turns from a quiet place into an uncomfortably busy one as people browse the shops and enjoy one of the many coffee shops or eateries.  Even if they haven’t got the monetary power that they once had, they still have the freedom to look at the goods in the shops, read a paper over a latte or share a burger and fries with their children.

Its hard not to notice these families as they interact and laugh with one another as they move through our town effortlessly and I can’t help but feel a stab of envy at how easy it is for them to do ordinary things like shopping.  Yes shopping, the thing that seems to have become a weekend hobby for some has become an activity that I really don’t care for any more.  It doesn’t help that I have never been a massive fan of shopping but any residual enjoyment that I did have has been evaporated by the continual struggle to either cope with autistic children or find the time and energy to do it.

With two children on different parts of the autistic spectrum it is more difficult than most to go shopping.  Different sensory issues and tolerance levels means it is hard to get it right for one child without upsetting the other.  My son, for example, likes to visit our local town centre particularly the library where he likes to look at the children’s books before having a fizzy drink in the library coffee shop.   This has almost become a ritual for him since his agoraphobic days when we used the library as an anchor in which to help him get used to going out and about.

So our local library, a 1960s relic which is pushed behind a more modern shopping centre, has become a special place in our lives.  However, his enjoyment of our library becomes affected by the indoor shopping centre that we have to pass through in order to get to the place.  Crowds, noise and temperature are just some of the things that can overwhelm his brain and if it gets too much he may flap, he may become silly or he may become aggressive and want to run off.  If we can distract him and keep the trip a short one we can usually manage.

In contrast our daughter is very resistant to going out at all; she prefers to stay at home.  Of course she is too young and vulnerable to be left and there are times when she has to come out with us.  Still her rigidity is very difficult to manage.  We usually have to give her advance warning that we will be visiting our town centre, plan a list of shops that we have to follow in a precise order and motivate her by leaving her favourite shop or the coffee shop till last.  When we do this we have a chance of getting round without a to-do but even then our daughter refuses to go into the  small supermarket or the food hall of a particular high street store that resides in our town.  These are the very shops that ironically my son adores particularly the self-pay checkouts that have the potential to amuse him for hours.

So with the school holidays only days away, it is unlikely that I’m going to manage our town centre on my own with my children.  Either I ask someone to babysit one or both of them, not go out at all or wait till my husband is home at the weekends.  I’ll probably opt for the latter but one thing is for sure, I’m definitely going to do my weekly food shop online!

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12 Responses to Shopping with autism

  1. Lizbeth says:

    We divide and conquer as well. It’s just too much to have all three kids in the trolly and then try to stuff food in there as well. If I take them out of the trolly then it’s like herding cats. Add to it we have about a 10 minute window before all the sounds and lights and commotion just gets to be too much. We much prefer to go solo.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Oh the trolleys! I remember the days of trying to get them into the trolley seats – they would either try and climb out or go rigid as I tried to put them in. Divide and conquer is definitely the best policy; if not then online shopping which I shall be doing as from next week, the first week of our school holidays over here!

  2. Steph says:

    I’ve blogged about this too…. I avoid shopping with my ASD girl full stop. I know some people think we should ‘expose’ them to the environment, but to be honest they’re not ever really going to get used to it – for them it’s like a living nightmare. On some days that is… others it might be a fun trip out, but I’m not really up for taking the risk and having the extra stress!! So I shop alone, much more stress free and enjoyable (if you can ever call it that!) :)

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Hi Steph; I prefer shopping alone particularly the weekly food shop. Its just too much for my children and I try and prevent them feeling overwhelmed by the noisy supermarket. I find it hard work so I dread to think how difficult it must be for my children. But I do encourage my children to come to town with me now and again; if I didn’t my daughter in particular would never leave the house and I’m not sure that is a good thing for her.

  3. Blue Sky says:

    I used to make aspie boy come shopping with me because Smiley loves it so much. That was before his diagnosis. Now I only do it when I absolutely have to and like that I have to have a list of shops that we are going to and an estimate of how much time will be spent there.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Oh yes, we have to have a time schedule too but if I take too much time in a particular shop my son starts to get jumpy. There’s no browsing for us.

  4. Galina V says:

    Know exactly what you mean by crowds and noise. Though I usually pop into shops during the week, when our older son is in school, we still cannot entirely avoid a weekend experience, especially when I am on my own, with DH being away on business. Our guy hates shopping, cannot stand still for a second, always on the move, always dancing and getting in the way of people’s trolleys who are snarling at us for being a nuisance. An experience not for weak-hearted indeed. He loves going to the bookshop, but if there are several loud kids, he gets really stressed, starts to hum loudly, so then we need to make a quick escape. And comments and stares you get, people can be so cruel and thoughtless.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      My daughter is always getting in the way of others too. In fact on one occasion she got stuck between our trolley and another customer’s trolley and no one could move. We had managed to block the shopping aisle completely. As is typical we got rude and shouty comments from other people.

  5. lucy says:

    Even though I don’t recognise many traits associated with ASD’s in myself, when it comes to shopping – I feel I’m right there with my boys who hate it. If the shop is brightly lit, busy and noisy; I find my spatial awareness is the first thing to go. Next, my concentration goes and I start to feel dizzy and sick, I can’t process the attack on all my senses (especially when smells collide – like bread and meat). I start switching off certain senses, this is where I’m lucky. Often I’ll have to abandon the trolley, which is usually full of stuff I didn’t need. And when I get in the car I have to compose myself because it takes a while for my bearings to return.
    Magnify this experience by 1000 and maybe you’ll be closer to how the experience of shopping feels when you DO have an ASD.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Thanks for that insight Lucy. I have to admit not being good in a supermarket myself; my problems are the crowds of people and noise. Its just too much and I often feel like abandoning the trolley and getting out. If I then have to go supermarket shopping with anyone else in tow, I find myself becoming more and more irritated. Now I go alone, choose a smaller supermarket and pick a quiet time.

  6. Fiona says:

    Oh I am with you here! Shopping is a nightmare for us. Usually one of us does it whilst the other sits at home with J. This isn’t good for him as he does need to be exposed to such environments and his school regularly take him shopping, but they have numerous staff members on trips and the world doesn’t end if they forget something. (We have an 11 mile trip by car to the nearest shop!) So, we have an ultimate weapon…J’s major buggy. He quite likes being secured in his chair and pushed around, again not good for him but it’s either that or he ends up on the floor rolling around and screaming and with another child and numerous fellow shoppers to cope with (and their stares) I can’t be bothered to fight it out too often!!

    • Aspie in the family says:

      We tend to divide and conquer as well particularly with the supermarket. It’s just too much and with the pressure of stares from other people, frankly I can’t deal with it. At the moment I’m just concentrating on helping my kids to get used to going up to town, the library and a few shops up there. But even that is tricky as they respond very differently to different things.

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