Tips for Shopping with a Child with Autism

Therapies and Resources for Children with Autism & Families

A trip to a busy shopping mall or grocery store can be grounds for sensory overload for many of us, but especially children with autism. There are many bright lights, crowds of unfamiliar people, and so much to look at and take in. Knowing the experience can be challenging, preparing your child in advance for a shopping excursion can go a long way in making the activity less overwhelming. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Avoid unexpected shopping trips. Children with autism generally cope with situations better when they know what to expect. Taking your child on an unexpected or last-minute shopping trip—even if it is just to pick up one or two items—can become a very stressful experience. It is best to prepare your child in advance for any visit to a store.
  • Explain the reasoning for the shopping trip. Talk to your child about where you are going and why you are going; for example, explain you go to the grocery store every week to buy the food that you keep at home and eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Or, if you are going to the mall, tell your child you are going to a shoe store to pick out new tennis shoes to wear at school. Give a reason and an expectation for the trip.
  • Start with short trips for practice. The first time you take your child to the store, aim for a short trip—a time when you have only a few items on your list. As the store and the activity becomes more familiar, over time, you can gradually increase the length of your trip.
  • Include the activity of shopping in your child’s daily schedule. Many children with autism benefit from visual aids, helping them visualize every part of their daily routine. Create a visual aid for the activity of going to the mall or going grocery shopping. When the activity is an expected part of your child’s normal routine, it becomes less unfamiliar.
  • Consider your child’s mood before the trip. Is your child not feeling well or particularly tired? Then it might not be a good time to plan a shopping outing.

Prepare for your child’s personal preferences. Some children with autism are particularly bothered by the overhead fluorescent lighting in grocery stores. In this case, as an example, your child might feel better if he wears a cap or sunglasses while in the store. Anticipate potential triggers for your child and do what you can to prepare for them in advance.

The team at Peak Potential Therapy is here to provide caring advice and support for you and your child with autism. Let us know if there are questions we can answer. Give us a call today!