The countdown is on for that first day back at school. For many, the ritual of buying new clothes and shoes is fun, exciting, and builds anticipation for the big day. For children on the autism spectrum, back to school shopping can be tedious, traumatic, over stimulating, and build anxiety for the dreaded transition back to school. We’ve compiled a few tips that may help minimize the stress and help you make a smoother transition.
Shop online whenever possible. Your child won’t be able to try anything on before you buy, but they probably won’t mind. When in doubt, buy clothes a size larger – you know they’ll fit before long – and always buy from a reputable site that makes returns easy for you. Engage your child as much as possible in the process – they may even enjoy shopping from pictures and comparing prices and descriptions. Shopping online can save a lot of time and a lot of stress, as long as you are good with guessing sizes and stick with natural fabrics that allow your child to feel comfortable.
When you do have to go to a brick and mortar store, plan your strategy. Try to go when you know the stores won’t be crowded. This will reduce both your child’s and your stress levels, cut down on time waiting in lines for dressing rooms or a cashier, and minimize the impact on nosy strangers if your child should have a meltdown.
Involve your child in the process and try to make it fun by giving them a specific mission: We are looking for a blue cotton button down shirt in a boys’ size 8. By focusing on looking for an item that meets set criteria, your child may be able to block out other things that can be over-stimulating.
Take lots of breaks and choose more, shorter trips over one long shopping trip. It may be less convenient, but it will be much more manageable. Also familiarize yourself with the layout of stores and malls before you go. Know where the exits are so you can keep your child away from them or make a quick exit as needed. Also know where the bathrooms are – those few seconds saved by not searching or asking directions could be critical.
Choose your battles. No one knows your child as well as you. If he experiences tactile defensiveness, don’t even bother looking at clothes that aren’t made from soft cotton, have flat seams, and have tags that will be easy to completely remove. If your child has an aversion to a particular color or fabric or is fixated on a certain super hero, why not let them express that through their clothing?
Finally, remember: meltdowns happen. The best you can do is try to avoid your own meltdown so you can calmly manage your child’s. Stay hydrated and keep plenty of snacks and other rewards handy. Know what you’re shopping for ahead of time, where you are most likely to find it, and when the stores will be less crowded. Take frequent breaks and if it gets to be too much for you or your child, go home. You can try again tomorrow or try shopping online.