While still in the midst of summer fun, the unavoidable looms ahead. The back-to-school commercials have begun to lure your child into the “I want. . .”, “I need. . .”, or “I must have that for school . . .” mindset. Yes, it’s only a matter of time before you have to start looking for back to school bargains and have to fight the crowds that follow the sales.
Shopping is usually not a child’s favorite thing to do, unless the purchases are intended for them. Even then, shopping can lose it’s glamour and glitz after an hour, especially for a child with sensory issues that can be easily overwhelmed by the lights, noise and people in a big box store.
The reality of back-to-school shopping is inevitable and there are many things a parent can do to make these shopping excursions as positive as they can be. Having a plan of action is the best way to tackle a shopping trip with any child. A spur of the moment decision to enter into the shopping scene is very risky business and can easily backfire on any one, especially if you go without a list.
Here are some strategies to add to your game plan when school shopping with your child with ASD if you cannot leave him or her at home.
1) Discuss the game plan with your child ahead of time. Children on the autism spectrum tend to be very concrete so let them know where you are going, how long it will take and what to expect. The more your child knows the better she will be able to cope. Consider providing her with her own list or allowing her to check off each item on the list as it is accomplished. If she understands exactly what is going to happen next she will be less likely to whine, lose her patience or create a scene.
2) Take realistic steps towards your goal. Unless your back-to-school list is very short, plan for more than one shopping trip if your child will be accompanying you each time. Don’t try to get everything you need packed into one excursion. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders function better when activities are divided into small chunks of time. Being mindful of everyone’s limited capacity for patience and frustration tolerance will help prevent the type of emotional meltdown you want to avoid in public.
3) Make a list and stick to it. If buying school supplies is the goal for the day, keep it to that and save the school clothes or other items for another day. Straying from the game plan will only risk heightening your child’s anxiety as children with Autism do best when you adhere to a written list or picture schedule that lets them know exactly what to expect. If possible, allow your child to have input and involve him in creating the list of supplies needed. If the list is agreed upon prior to going shopping it is easy to point to the list and say no to additional requests.
4) Leave the house with a full tank. This is not a reference to your car’s fuel tank but your child’s best level of functioning. Make sure your child is well rested and fed prior to leaving the house. If your child is sensitive to noise, spending time in a crowded, noisy and strange environment can be unsettling and overstimulating. Bring her favorite healthy snacks to refuel her when she gets hungry and water to keep her well hydrated as well.
5) Create an atmosphere of fun and learning. Make up creative games you can play with your child while shopping. If your son is old enough, ask him to be your helper by telling him what you are looking for and call it a treasure hunt. Challenge your child to identify colors, count items or give him something that is OK to touch and ask him to describe it. Make sure you have included one activity in the shopping spree that is enjoyable for you and your child.
6) Limit your child’s TV viewing diet. If your child watches any TV, you can be sure that she is receiving numerous media messages, which promote the notion that consumption is the pathway to happiness, love, acceptance, and success. These messages are also creeping into the internet and the cell phones that now seem to be a normal part of life for many children. The media madness that advances a commercial culture may impact your shopping trip, your child and your wallet more than you realize.
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What works for you when you have to shop with your child?
Title: Six Strategies for Stress-free Back to School Shopping with Kids