The holidays can be a challenging time for all families and particularly families with a child with autism spectrum disorder. Autism brings a particular challenge to the family dynamics. Although autism has its beauty and each individual with autism (or without) has their own unique personality, strengths, and potential. However, during the holiday season, families are often likely to desire to go to the store to shop for food or for gifts or simply to get out of the house. The holidays also seems to increase the chaos in public settings unlike other times of the year.

The holidays are beautiful, but certain challenges can arise during this time of year.

Here are 7 tips for shopping with a child with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

  1. Plan ahead for basic needs. Make sure to address any basic needs such as if your child may be tired, hungry, or thirsty prior to going to the store. Behavior problems will be less likely to occur if you address these concerns prior to going into a store.
  2. Provide praise for positive behavior. Children with autism may walk away from you in the store if they get distracted by something and want to look at something they are interested in, they may complain or they may display a number of other undesired behaviors. When your child is NOT displaying these negative behaviors, provide praise by saying things like “I love you. Thank you for standing next to me.” or “I really appreciate you keeping your voice calm and kind.”
  3. Provide reinforcement for a positive shopping trip. Make sure that what happens right after the shopping trip is a positive experience for your child. What happens right after a behavior is what will influence whether it does or does not happen again. For example, let your child have some electronic time or a special treat.
  4. Ignore non-harmful inappropriate vocalizations. When your child complains or nags you about something, just simply ignore his statements, especially if you know you have already addressed the topic with him before. For example, if he wants to get into an argument with you about why you are saying you won’t buy him a toy, simply don’t respond to the statment or you can provide a very brief reminder, such as “I will not be buying toys today.” and keep your statement brief and very calm and do not engage in the argument. Repeat yourself if you prefer not to ignore him. But make sure you don’t give in. They need to learn that you mean what you say.
  5. Give your child opportunities for success. If you know it is very difficult for your child to go to the store, find ways that he can be successful, such as going to the dollar store (a smaller store compared to a large department store) or go during times when there will likely be less people. You can also take much shorter trips at first to help your child get used to going to stores. Kids need to experience success in order to practice their skills just like anyone else so they don’t give up on this everyday life skill.

image credit: : Alena Yakusheva via Fotalia