Today my wife took my boys shopping for groceries and as always, it can be tiring keeping an eye on them, answering all their questions, stopping them from running around, from grabbing/touching everything and so on and so forth.
But what proved to be, and continues to be the most difficult aspect is the parking lot. It’s also the scariest.
The parking lot is scary enough just because children are children… they don’t recognize the dangers as well, they aren’t as aware of their surroundings as well, they simply aren’t in control of themselves as well.
What makes it so much worse for a child with #Autism is that they lack the ability to focus and to maintain disciplined motor skills.
A parking lot presents a lot of stimulation to overwhelm a young child’s mind, with people everywhere, cars either moving or sitting still, lights, the weather, not knowing where to go, the smells… plus, many children see it as a big area to play in.
For a child with Autism, it can overwhelm them just as much as any area inside the store except that a parking lot has a lot more dangers.
While walking towards the store, my wife had both of my boys holding onto the cart that she had grabbed, this way they’re always close. However, as a truck slowly crawled up along side them, Cameron still did what he often does when excited and overwhelmed… he walked with his arms flailing wildly at his sides and took steps as if the ground was wavering beneath him.
As the truck was nearly beyond them, he took one step wider to the side than normal, as if falling over.. my wife yanked him back quickly because if she hadn’t, his foot would have been run over by the truck’s back tire.
Imagine, you’re doing everything right with keeping your children close, they have a hand on the cart, you’re watching everything and in less than a second, a single wild step could mean a trip to the hospital, or worse.
Often when people talk about grocery shopping with child that has Autism, the discussion focuses around meltdowns, over stimulation and other parents being judgmental. Really though, we need to recognize and remember that getting in and out of the store is the most dangerous part and needs to be handled with care.
Here are some tips, that we’ve learned through trial and error, on getting through the parking lot safely.
- Grab a cart as soon as you can after leaving your vehicle. Then:
a. Put your child(ren) in the cart for a fun bumpy ride.
b. Put your child(ren) between you and the handle, so that your arms are around them. Let them push the cart to help out, but keep your hands on theirs or at least on the handle
c. Make sure your children are making contact with the cart at all times so that, even if something unexpected does happen, you’re at least close enough to make a quick reaction.
- If you have no cart, keep your child between you and the parked cars so that the cars in motion are along side you, not them.
- Don’t take no for an answer. Children with Autism will be very reluctant to hold your hand but that’s just too bad. Do it anyway. Better a meltdown in the store than an accident in the parking lot.
My son was almost hurt today and my wife did everything right… in fact, it’s a good thing she did or else he very likely would have been injured.
The less your child is capable of focusing, the more you have to! Be aware at all times, do the things you need to do at all times. The consequences of a single moment in time that you let it slide could be too unbearable to think about.