As you may know I use Twitter quite a lot. You can find me there at some point every day, usually in the evening, but if I’m not at work it can be at any point through the day. One of the tweets I have automated is “When you see a child screaming in the supermarket, remember that Autism is a hidden disability.” As any of you who have children on the autistic spectrum will recognise this can be a very stressful time for both parents and children. You will know that during a trip to the supermarket, which can’t realistically be avoided, children can find the whole experience both stressful and painful. Sensory issues with lights, sounds and smells can lead to a ‘meltdown’ and if that isn’t enough the need to conform to society expectations can be the cause of a ‘meltdown’. But don’t forget the impulsivity or the apparent stubbornness that can be associated with Autism. (I say apparent as stubbornness is not a trait of autism but any parent will tell you that to an onlooker it can be assumed to be stubbornness). Once the ‘meltdown’ is in progress there is little you can do other than support the child and hope it doesn’t last too long or that you don’t get too many ‘looks’ from strangers who don’t understand.
I have been asked many times how to prevent the ‘meltdown’ and although I suggest some strategies that are based on desensitising there is not much you can do. Part of living in our social world is shopping, and shopping means supermarkets, but even if you shop in greengrocers, butchers and bakers the issues will still be there, and as parents would like their children to live as normal a live as possible, shopping needs to be done. You can shop online, and for some this is more practical, but where is the learning for the child? My response to parents who ask me for advice is to do small shops rather than one big one, use a list so that you know what you want and prioritise it into the things you need first, then if you anticipate an ‘meltdown’ you can get the things you need and get out. Or try visiting the shop with no intention of buying anything, just a social visit.
To finish off I’d just like to say that I am not naive enough to think that every child screaming in the supermarket is autistic, sometime children are loud and uncooperative, but there is a difference. Another of my tweets is “A hug, a smile or a nod can make a big difference to someone’s day. Why not give them out, they are free.” So next time you see a parent struggling with their child, don’t stand and stare or be judgemental, offer some support, it really can make a difference.