5 Top Tips for Shopping with Autistic Children
“Having an autistic child is a unique gift; getting to see how their brilliant brain works in different ways is so rewarding. However, this also means that some things such as going shopping may be an overwhelming experience.” – BigWLittleW
That is why, we have collaborated with North East Instagram blogger, BigWLittleW to put together top tips for shopping with Autistic children.
Have a Plan
Having a plan is the first step towards a successful shopping trip. Create a mental outline of where you might want to visit, in what order and for how long, and download a shopping centre map beforehand if you can. For a parent, it’s one less thing to think about while on the move, and depending on the age of the child, knowledge of this plan can serve as a reassurance.
Adopt a ‘now-and-next’ approach, signposting where you are going to and then what is next. This gives as sense of predictability.
Before you head out, get ahead of the unpredictable British weather and where possible, dress your child in layers. Layering is ideal as it means that your child will be comfortable going from the outside cold into the heat of the shops; some children with sensory issues find temperature fluctuations uncomfortable – so prior planning can pay dividends.
Oh, and make sure to pack plenty of snacks – whether to distract your child or fortify yourself – they’re always handy.
Next, have absolute confidence in both your children and your parenting ability. We are never at our best when we are anxious, and this is never more true than when we are trying to navigate a busy town centre with both arms and hands full, all while having to balance children and making decisions simultaneously. Children can and do pick up on your emotions, so if they pick up on your anxieties, they will swiftly follow suit. Take a breath; you will get through this – you’ve made it this far, have faith!
Visual aids can be helpful to show your child where you’re going, helping to reassure their concerns and keep them busy. Some children with autism find the sensory stimulation associated with a touch screen device very reassuring, so taking one along can either act as a distraction or act as a way to encourage positive behaviour.
Fidget toys, just like transitional toys, are excellent for grounding an anxious child. A toy, or item, that your child is particularly attached to can help them to regulate themselves and soothe any stress. Egg timers can also provide visual stimulation by showing your child how long you are likely to be at a given destination. If your child finds shopping overwhelming, building up the time you spend at each location may be helpful. This will help to teach your child that if they are overwhelmed by a certain environment, there will be a change of scenery coming soon.
Choose the Right Destination
Selecting the right destination for your household is important. Choose environments where there are a diverse array of shops in addition to various activities like bowling, soft play and some tasty food options, to build an overall positive experience.
Opting to visit during shopping centre dedicated quiet hours are more accommodating to those with a neurodivergence really makes a huge difference. Quiet hours with no music and dimmed lighting are great, as are shops that support shoppers wearing the sunflower lanyard as a signifier that they may need additional support while shopping. Sensory bags filled with a selection of toys, visual aids, egg timers and ear defenders provide a much-needed lifeline if your child gets bored or overwhelmed.
Don’t be Afraid to Change Plan
Even with a plan B, C and even D, it can sometimes be necessary to be completely agile and to know when to scrap your plan. There’s no shame in it; just make sure to keep rewarding good behaviour and keeping an eye on your child’s needs. Popping in at the end of a shopping trip to buy a little treat is a perfect way to leave a positive association in your child’s mind.
To plan ahead for your trip to Eldon Square and check out our accessibility information here