No matter how many children you have, shopping with an autistic toddler is a completely different experience. Some children scream, are loud, extremely grabby, frightened (and cry), or run away at every given opportunity. As a parent, this can be a number of emotions. We sometimes feel ashamed that we have disturbed others. Angry at the world — especially if there are judgemental looks are remarks made to us directly. All of these emotions can cause us to stop shopping with our child, retreat to our homes, and stop going out in public altogether. No parent wants to do that, nor is it healthy for anyone. Before you develop a strong case of anxiety and depression, there are a few things you can work on to help make your next shopping trip go smoother.
Create a Plan of Action for Shopping with Your Autistic Toddler
First, prepare for a shopping trip like you would an all-day outing. Pack your diaper bag with an extra set of clothing, socks, and shoes. Bring along a toy, or two, for entertainment. You could even bring along a Toddler-Friendly Tablet. Prepare his/her cup and pack a couple of snacks. Why? All children become bored while shopping, but an autistic child may display boredom in a way that isn’t pleasing because they don’t know how to verbalize how they are feeling. Keeping a little entertainment, food, and drink available will help you keep meltdowns at bay. Will it be full-proof? Not at all. But the majority of your problems can be solved by being more prepared.
When you arrive at the store, park near the shopping carts so you can prepare your cart to be more comfortable. Before removing your child from their car seat, get your cart, add a soft “buggy cover” to the seat and attach your toys. Next. buckle your child and toss in your prepared diaper bag.
Important: Always BUCKLE IN your child into the buggy. No matter if you are shopping in a traditional cart, a double seat, or a shopping “car”. Buckle them in! You may also want to delay allowing your child to walk around the store, if possible. The moment you start letting your child walk in the store, it is all over! They will melt down to get out of the shopping cart or refuse to go inside altogether; all it takes is one visit.
Another reason to be consistent and always buckle in your autistic child is to prevent them from roaming away, or RUNNING away! Yes, this can, and does, happen! I cannot tell you how mortifying it is to be at checkout and have your toddler dart off. It is the stuff of nightmares! Leaving your purse/wallet behind at the register, a cart full of groceries, and a long line of people wondering “What in the world is happening?” Don’t let that happen to you! To prevent the worst from happening during an elopement episode, I have always used AngelSense GPS Device on my autistic kiddo. It tracks their movement so you can intervene and find your child quickly.
Last, be prepared for a cuddle. Meltdowns happen. They happen at home, they happen in the car, and they certainly can happen in the middle of the store. If you are still babywearing your toddler, bring your carrier with you. This will allow you to comfort your child while you continue shopping. If you don’t babywear anymore, wear a cross-body purse when you shop so you can easily get down on the floor with your child until the meltdown is over without worrying about being robbed in the middle of the chaos. If you can, find a bench or a low traffic area of the store to chill out in until your child is through it.
Whatever you do, remember, meltdowns in public aren’t the end of the world. They happen. Don’t be embarrassed. You’re a special needs mom and we’re tough as nails! Ignore everyone around you and just focus on your child(ren). If your child has a meltdown in public, try to look for triggers. Does it always happen on aisle ten where the spices are strongest? Does your child have a meltdown when strangers try to talk to them? Is the time of day a problem? Look for the reason behind it so you can think ahead next time, but don’t give up! Keep taking your child to the store. Keep trying. The more he/she visits the store with you, the more it will become familiar. By the time your child is six, it will be their favorite thing to do, trust me!