Autism affects all the five senses of a person: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste. Thus, a child with autism may find it very 'strange' and difficult even to go shopping with his or her parents. Here are some difficulties your child with autism may have to face when going shopping with you:
The noise: such sudden loud noise as the supermarket system announcement, the noise of people chatting, babies crying may come to the child almost at the same time with the same volume due to the sound impairments.
The smells: different smells from the food, perfume, cosmetics etc. can cause distress for the child. He/ she may be overwhelmed by all the odours in the shop and be really annoyed with that.
The sights: the child may also be overwhelmed by the flickering lights in the shop, or be confused by the patterns of different rows of objects. The child may feel lost in such a complex environment and may experience 'visual overload'
The touch: some children with autism are very sensitive to touch. Thus, it may be hard for them to try on new clothes or shoes at the shop.
Other difficulties: the child may also be frightened by the crowded atmosphere in the shop or supermarket. He or she may view it as an invasion of personal space. Also, if the child is not explained clearly about 'shopping', he or she may find it hard to accept the fact that 'we have to go shopping'. He or she may not be able to figure out why people take away things that are not theirs.
Things that parents should do
Get prepared - explain for your child what shopping is: you can write a social story which explains why people need to go shopping, or simply show your child a photo of the shop with all the people, shelves and items on the shelves. This will help the child get familiar with the definition of 'shopping'
Make a list: make a list of all the things you have to shop and go for each item one by one so that the child will be 'on task' and not overwhelmed by getting all the things at a time.
Give the child some 'distracters': you can give the child a toy, a book or whatever that keeps him/ her busy and 'distracted'. This will make the child concentrate on something and not anything that happens in the shop.
Have rewards: after each trip, reward your child with something: a favorite toy, an ice-cream cone etc. Give the reward to the child soon after the trip, as this will help the child relate the reward to the shopping task.
Green, Gill (2000). "My Child Has Autism - A Parent's Guide". Singapore: Autism Resource Centre (Singapore). Page 2.
Wing, Lorna (1996). "The Autistic Spectrum - A Guide for Parents and Professionals". London: Constable and Company Limited. Pages 17-21.
Happé, Francessa (1994). "Autism - an introduction to psychological theory". London: University College London Press Limited. Pages 7-14.
The National Autistic Society