It is that time of the year once again…I know! And everything that comes along with it. Big crowds everywhere, long lines at the grocery store and mall, noise, music, and every possible scenario that can trigger an Autism meltdown at any moment. It is already too much stimuli for all of us neuro-typicals, let alone our neuro-diverse children!
So I decided to write this blog post that can help us deal with it in the best way possible:
I know it is easier said than done. Trust me; I’ve been there with my 3 boys in- tow! But doing your shopping early can help reduce significantly a lot of stressful situations.
As Autism parents, we should try our earnest to avoid scenarios that might cause great distress to our children and ourselves. This includes, trying your best to avoid a Speedy-Gonzalez shopping trip to the mall in a late Friday evening. You might think it will not take “too long” but after a long day, those few minutes can turn into hours in the eyes of an individual on the Autism spectrum.
Shopping early will help your child to be exposed to shopping with you (And be taught how it works!) in a more relaxed and friendly environment. Shopping early means also that there will be fewer crowds, he/she will not be bouncing into anyone; there will be less noise and therefore fewer chances for sensory-related meltdowns.
LOOK OUT FOR THE SIGNS
Individuals on the Autism spectrum might feel overstimulated quickly. In a lot of cases, they have sensory-related issues (Making them extremely sensitive to noise, lights, etc). They might not be able to express these challenges with words but there are signs that might indicate to us that a meltdown is about to happen:
1. Trigger: There is usually a particular reason that might lead to a meltdown. Know your child’s triggers and try to avoid those situations.
2. Anxiety: Your child might appear nervous, anxious and he/she might be pacing around the store or become very still.
3. Reassurance: If your son/daughter is verbal he might be seeking constant reassurance by asking you the same questions over and over.
4. Rocking/covering ears: Your child might be rocking back and forth in order to stabilize himself/herself emotionally due to stress. He/she might also be rocking while covering his/her ears.
If you are unable to leave the particular place during a meltdown, one of the first things you need to ensure is safety. Remove your child from any place that could cause him/her to harm him or others.
Once he/she is safe, try to use distraction as a strategy tool to get your child’s attention away from what he/she is experiencing. Keep in mind that once a meltdown takes place and reaches a certain point, your child might not be able to “listen” to what you have to say.
Remaining very calm amidst the storm is key to soothe a child who is already in overload-mode.
WRITE A SOCIAL STORY
Social stories can be a great tool in preparation for shopping with your child with Autism. Short stories are basically detailed descriptions of an activity that is about to take place. They help individuals with Autism to know what to expect in that particular situation and why. It brings peace and order to their minds and helps to control anxiety.
So if you need to go to a shop tomorrow to purchase a pair of earrings, create a comic-strip booklet (Or single sheets) the day before about what the day will be like (In detail) so your child knows what to expect. In the drawing, it will be you and your child going to the store. You might draw yourself picking up that pair of earrings and paying for it at the cashier. Social stories work for ALL individuals on the spectrum but particularly non-verbal individuals. You don’t have to be Da Vinci to have a perfect drawing; the most important aspect is that all the elements can be there.
AVOID RANDOM SHOPPING
Because our neuro-diverse children need to know in advance what they will experience, try to avoid random shopping. If your child knows you are going to the supermarket and you even created a social story about it and he/she has been doing great so far, avoid the temptation of stopping by for just “five” minutes to get that last present you forgot to shop for. Five minutes might be five hours for a child who was not expecting that last minute trip.
USE SHOPPING AS A TEACHING OPPORTUNITY
I know the temptation is great (To do everything ourselves) but remembering we are raising children with the hope they will become independent one day.
As much as it is possible and practicable, involve your child in your shopping trip. If you are shopping for groceries, ask them to put the groceries in the trolley for you. Ask them to pick up their favorite fruit or veggie in order to test their comprehension skills and preferences.
Most cashiers are very understanding if you explain that your child is on the spectrum and he/she might want to pay for a few groceries by himself/herself. Give your child the opportunity to shine. Waiting in line can be a stressful and frustrating but if your child has his/her own items to cash; it will help them to develop patience.
MAKE SURE YOUR CHILD IS WELL RESTED
This is a very important factor. If you know your child has to do shopping with you tomorrow, make sure he/she goes to bed early so they can have a good rest and be in a good mood the next day. Lack of sleep can cause a lot of grumpiness and unnecessary stress.
Also, ensure he/she eats well and drink before the trip. The same applies to you! A parent who takes care of themselves is a parent that can better help their child.
HAVE RELAXING ITEMS HANDY
Always have relaxing items that can help soothe your child if he/she is overwhelmed during shopping. It might be a doll, a blanket or any other item that your child might be attached to. Perhaps it is something small that he/she can carry inside a pocket.
Whatever it is, try your best to have it around so if your son/daughter might be feeling impatient, anxious or overwhelmed they can use this object as a diversion until you are able to figure out the trigger and help them to calm down.
Hope these tips can help you make Christmas shopping a less stressful activity with your son/daughter! Please let me know in your comments below how are you preparing for the holiday.