9 Tips for Shopping with Your Child with Autism

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • It’s the holiday season and that means trips to the mall for gift shopping. If your child with autism is prone to shouting, running off or has meltdowns because of overstimulation you may worry about the upcoming shopping excursion.


    The following tips may help:


    Be prepared. Write a list of exactly what you want to purchase and what stores you want to visit. Knowing ahead of time, and sharing this information with your child if he is old enough, can help the shopping trip go quicker and smoother.


    Know your child’s best time of day. You may want to keep your shopping trips to off hours, such as during the dinner hour or mid-afternoon when the malls are calmer but you also want to take your child into consideration. If mid-afternoon is nap time or he is going to have to wait until you get home for dinner, it probably isn’t a good idea to shop during those times. Use your understanding your child’s schedule and when he is best able to behave to plan out the best time to hit the mall.

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    Feed your child first. Hungry children are often cranky, impatient children. Make sure you feed your child before you go to the mall and keep some snacks and drinks with you.


    Bring along something familiar. You may want to bring along a favorite toy or gadget that can help distract him when standing in lines.


    Talk about expectations before you are in the mall. Don’t wait until your child misbehaves to tell him what the appropriate behavior is. Discuss what you expect from him before entering the mall, such as not running off, not touching other people or wanting to talk to everyone. Explain what the consequences are for his misbehavior and what reward (maybe an ice-cream when shopping is done) if he does behave.


    Have a planned time-out area. This could be in the rest rooms or in an area of the mall that usually isn’t too crowded. If you see your child getting close to meltdown or is getting louder, take a few minutes to help him calm down. Sit quietly for a few minutes, you may even want to bring a favorite book you can read before you get back to shopping.


    Start small. If you aren’t sure how your child is going to react in the mall, start by going to buy only one item. These can be “practice runs” for longer shopping excursions.


    Take time to let your child browse. Let your child walk around the toy store or look at the DVDs or whatever section his favorite items are. Use this as a reward or as a way to break up longer shopping trips.


    Set a time limit. Decide how long you are going to be at the mall. Use a timer (many phones have timers) or set the alarm on your phone. When it rings, finish paying for what you have and then leave. Your child will feel more in control if there is a set amount of time you will be at the mall.

Published On: November 21, 2012