I feel strongly about the need that all children- and especially children with special needs- need to be a part of normal things that families do together. In this instance, something as simple as running errands.
It is far too easy for Autism (and other needs) to make us hermits. Heck- toddlers in general make us want to stay home. But the “big picture” question that it ultimately boils down to is this:
How do you learn how to master a skill if you don’t ever practice that skill in the target setting?
Social story scenarios about going to the grocery store don’t mean anything if you don’t ever go to the grocery store.
Sometimes when we go out with Autism, Autism might bring friends along. Sensory meltdowns, over stimulation, impulse control, communication barriers, etc. These things can make doing typical things with typical communication partners in typical environments challenging, much less when you do new things in novel environments with dozens of unfamiliar people and sounds all around.
I used to be the mom who would scope out local stores after walking in to see if there was anyone I knew there because I knew that despite Caleb’s ability to typically handle being out and about well, there was always the possibility of a meltdown. I used to care what people thought. I used to cringe when strangers would come up to him in the checkout line and speak to him, knowing that there was no way he would respond. I used to say “he’s ready for a nap” or another comparable excuse. What I realized with time though, was that my child wasn’t the only one who needed to learn how to act appropriately when we went out.
Now I throw Caleb in the car seat every week and we go somewhere just for the sake of going somewhere sometimes- just to be with different people, doing different things. I had to put it beyond myself and rationalize that I would never want my child to be embarrassed when he was out because he had a special set of circumstances, so there’s no possible way I can go somewhere and be embarrassed myself. He can say “hi” now but I don’t force it if he doesn’t want to. There was one time at Aldi where a man said “Hi Buddy” to him while we were both picking out seasonal squashes and Caleb looked him directly in the eye and said “Hi” back without skipping a beat and I literally had to contain an excitement level that would have distraught this man deeply and play it cool, picking out decorative gourds for my mantle like it ain’t no thang.
Don’t think I attained my present comfort level because my child has always been eazy peazy to take somewhere. For the most part, yes, I’m fortunate. We don’t have hypersensitivities to loud noises, our sensory seeking tendencies are pretty manageable, etc. But it has NOT always been a cakewalk. It still isn’t. Last weekend Brian and Caleb went into Lowe’s while Ari and I waited in the car (I hadn’t felt like putting on real pants that day, not gonna lie) and Brian had to bring Caleb out to the car with me, go back in, checkout, then come back. The last time we all went to Costco, Caleb and I had to walk out early to the car. I’m not always successful either. I try really hard to make leaving the last resort, but I understand that sometimes it really is that hard. But you just keep trying. I’ve cleaned up an entire box of Honey Bunches of Oats thrown onto a checkout conveyor belt in the middle of a meltdown. My child has fallen cartwheel style out of a cart trying to get some sensory input moving around. And I’m sorry Kroger, but I have taken an entire stack of the twist ties you close produce bags with and walked around with them in my back pocket to present my child at random times as a fidget toy. Disclaimer- with everything above said, as a mom, I understand also that sometimes you just need to go out without a child. For sanity’s sake. The bliss of having one hand on your shopping cart and one hand on a seasonally spiced latte while you browse the housewares clearance end aisles at Target is MAGICAL.
These days, we use standard behavior modification and quiet book activities (sticker books) when we really need to have something else to do while we wait nicely in the cart and it typically works for us. Some other things you may be able to use and try are:
– busy bags/quiet books
– on the go toys/travel games
– sticker books (that’s our go to….it’s the entire reason I shop at the Dollar Tree).
– visual schedule of where you’ll be going
– portable sensory input tools: chewy tubes, fidgets, squeeze balls, etc.
– social stories
– noise cancelling headphones
Check out our Pinterest Board for Going Out and About for more ideas.
I once had a family tell me that they hadn’t been all out to eat as a family in over a year because their toddler, who happened to have Autism, had such a difficult time being out in public. So do you know what we did? We met the next week for speech therapy at El Parral Mexican Restaurant. I showed up with a loaner AAC device in one hand and a sticker book in the other and there, for the first time in a year, that child got to go out to eat. I tell you this because 1) if you want me to meet you somewhere and help you and your child go somewhere that is usually difficult, tell me when and where and Caleb and I are there. I’m not an expert but I do get it and things are easier with support at first. And 2) I think it’s a testament to remind people not to judge the parents of crying children, tantruming children, silent children when you’re out. And to certainly not say anything demeaning to them. What I didn’t put on the suggestion list above was “patience” but I promise, we don’t have any of that to spare for sanctimonious jerks. PROMISE. If anything, please tell us we’re doing a good job. At any given moment, we’re giving it all we’ve got.
So today, we have a rematch with Costco. May the odds be ever in our favor 🙂
Here are some other places we like to go!
Panera. Note those stickers on the table, ya’ll!
Any restaurant ever that serves chicken and french fries.
T.J. Maxx. Yes, believe it- I took him to one of my happy places.
Festivals, fairs, and related activities of festive fun. This is us on a gnarly coaster at a county fair. And by gnarly I mean that we rotated mechanically in a circle at a speed that generated a slight breeze.
Where do you guys like to go and what helps you all when you’re out and about?!?! You can click “leave a comment” at the top of the post!