Do you get Stressed Out Shopping with your Child with Autism?

Taking a child shopping in a store can be a big challenge for a parent. It’s hard sometimes to even purchase one or two items if your child is distracted or wants something in the candy aisle!

If you have trouble getting your shopping tasks completed, we have some great shopping tips for you! It’s important to take very small, but achievable steps to teach your child to stay with you and behave appropriately on shopping trips.

  1. Before getting the child to go along with instructions outside the home, practice teaching the child to comply with instructions in the home and neighborhood settings. If he doesn’t comply with directions at in these locations, he is not likely to comply at the store either.
  2. When first teaching your child to go with you on shopping trips, take your child to the store only with the intention of teaching him how to behave well while at the store versus going to buy tons of food for an actual shopping trip.
  3. At first, the requirements for the shopping trip may be to have the child walk into the store and immediately walk out without engaging in any disruptive behavior. The emphasis should be placed on the appropriate behaviors and any praise delivered should show the child that there are pays offs for remaining calm, staying with his parents, and keeping his hands to himself! The two main goals of the shopping trip are to reduce the chances of him engaging in disruptive behavior and to have the good behaviors reinforced.
  4. Once the child can consistently act appropriately in the store for 5 to 10 minutes, try having him accompany you through the checkout line as you purchase an item. Consider that checkout counters contain tempting, nearby objects that the child may be inclined to reach for or want. Further, going through the line requires the learner to patiently wait for an extended period of time. For these reasons, it may initially benefit the child if the parent was able to proceed quickly through the checkout line and quickly purchase items.  This way, undesired behaviors (e.g., touching various items, becoming upset while waiting in line, etc.) are less likely to occur and the parent can place emphasis on and strengthen (e.g., by praising the child) the appropriate, desired behaviors (e.g., staying calm while waiting in line, hands to self, etc.). Try paying for the items in advance or arrange a time with the manager for a quick checkout experience so that the learner can practice the skill of going through the checkout line.
  5. Gradually increase the time that the child spends shopping at the store, including the checkout line (when appropriate), and make sure to always praise and attempt to strengthen the positive behaviors!
  6. Keep the child engaged in the shopping process such as locating items to purchase (“Do you see any apples?”). The child can also be asked to put items in cart, on the conveyor belt in the checkout line, etc.

It is essential to start with small expectations, as to what the child should do when in a store, and then gradually increase those expectations as he begins to develop those skills.

For more information on this topic and other related topics such as walking nicely, waiting patiently, eating at the dinner table, and having trouble sleeping, goto  Success on the Spectrum: How to Teach Skills to Individuals with Autism


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