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!