Grocery stores can be challenging places for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Tempting treats can be distracting and loud announcements over the intercom can be startling. Your child may demand to walk next to you, refuse to touch some items or become impatient while waiting in the check-out line. Any of these situations could result in problem behavior or make it challenging to complete your trip.
Try the following strategies to help make grocery store trips more manageable:
Bring along toys or snacks
Grocery stores can be boring for some kids and places full of temptation for others. Try giving your child one or two toys or snacks that she can have throughout the trip to entertain and distract her.
You may want to save another item to give her while waiting in line to check out. By giving this item to your child right when you get in the check-out line, rather than at the start of the trip, the item will be new and may keep her interest longer than if she had it the entire trip.
Provide clear rules
Explain the rules before you enter the store and let your child know how you expect her to behave in the store. For example, if your child often runs away from you, give her a rule that she needs to hold the handle of the shopping cart.
If your child likes to do activities with you, try giving her a job to complete during the trip. For example, have her help with putting items in the cart. This strategy may not work as well for children who have trouble completing chores or other tasks.
Create a checklist
If your child responds well to visuals, a checklist of the items you will get in the store can help her predict when the trip will end.
Reward good behavior
Give your child a reward for completing the trip without problem behavior. The reward could include a small item she gets to pick out in the store or an item brought from home. Provide lots of praise and attention throughout and at the end of the trip if your child is doing a good job. If not, try to ignore or minimize attention you give to problem behavior.
Keep trips short
Until grocery store trips are going well, try to keep them short. If possible, start off with a five- to 10 -minute trip so your child can have a better chance of managing the task. Getting three short trips in a week that go well is more likely to result in improvement than having one long, tough trip every other week. Once your child is tolerating a short trip well, start to gradually increase the amount of time the trip lasts.
If problem behavior happens regularly, seek assistance from a psychologist or behavior analyst who has experience with helping children with autism. He or she can develop a comprehensive treatment for your child.
To learn more about how to request treatment at Marcus Autism Center or obtain a physician referral, visit our appointments page.
We recognize that every child is unique and that the content of this article may not work for everyone. This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. We hope these tips will serve as a jumping-off point for finding the best approach to helping a child with autism. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.