Many parents with children on the spectrum face challenges in taking their child out into a variety of public settings. For Katrina Davis, a family services advisor, she thinks of all the places her son can’t go every time she walks along a bike trail and cyclists occasionally yell “on your left!” Her sone Arthur is 15 and autistic, and although has come a long way in how he behaves and communicates, does not always pay attention to his surroundings. With the bicyclists having the right of wat and expecting those rules to be followed, she could see how an accident could easily happen. How could she explain to her son, who struggles with language and communication that there were different rules to follow when you were in certain environments?
Davis was tired of having bad experiences with simply trying to do errands such as grocery shopping or going to the bank. She explains, “the tantrums, the odd behavior, the stares, the abandoned shopping cart filled with food, the failed attempts at waiting in a line left me exhausted, hopeless, and feeling isolated.” However, she recognized that these outings are an important life skills for her child and healthy experiences for both of them. Below are some tips she shared based on her own experience, on how to make doing errands a more enjoyable experience for everyone.
Plan: keeping a dry erase board in the car to draw a picture story to help explain unexpected changes in schedule, for example a traffic jam or a closed store. Bringing along activities or toys that your child likes to help them stay calm and stimulated.
Exposure: Return to familiar areas and even if you’re passing by consistently and never get our of the car, you are still setting up a more successful future outing.
Small steps: plan short trips to the grocery or a particular place so that your child gets familiar with the environment and people. Gradually increase the time you can spend in these places as your child gets more comfortable in them.
Persistence: There will be setbacks and things will not always go smoothly, maybe you don’t get anywhere near the end of your grocery list, still celebrate the small victories.
Take a deep breath: if someone has a negative reaction to your child’s behavior, remember that it is a good opportunity to educate others about autism and create a positive connection.
Ask for help: ask a family member of a friend to come along for the trip if it will make you feel better able to handle any challenging situations that may come up.
For other autism resources, check out our resource links HERE