Tips for Grocery Shopping with a Child with autism

Grocery Shopping with a Child with Autism


Going to the store with children can be a task in itself, but when you have a child with autism, the experience can become even more of a challenge. However, with some preparation, you can make trips to the store easier and more enjoyable for both you and your child.

Here are some tips to help you navigate the grocery store with your child:

1. Plan ahead:

    • Try to go to the store during off-peak hours when it is less crowded and noisy. This can help reduce sensory overload and make the experience more enjoyable for your child.
    • Utilize transition warnings: talk to your child about what to expect and provide them with timed warnings for the transition.
    • Make a list: Knowing what to expect can provide your and your child a way to track and visualize how long the trip will be, where in the store to go, and what items to get. This adds predictability to the trip which is a great way to reduce unexpected triggers for difficult behaviors and feelings.

2. Use visual aids:

    • Picture schedules, pictures of shopping list items, first / then boards, and red/green availability boards can all help you assist your child with understanding the process and stay on track.
    • Use these items before and during the trip as needed!

3. Make sure you have your resources:

    • It may be helpful to have a pre-packed bag for outings that are not preferred for your child.
    • This bag should include any sensory items such as fidgets,noise-canceling headphones, or toys to keep your child engaged. Also make sure you have one or more items including snacks/drinks or special toys to reward even the smallests successes!
    • Take breaks: If your child starts to feel overwhelmed or anxious, take breaks as needed. Find a quiet corner in the store or step outside for some fresh air to help your child calm down before continuing with the shopping.

4. Promote Communication :

    • During the trip your child may need to take breaks or ask for things. Make sure you prompt them to ask for what they need in an appropriate way (using a picture exchange, gestures, or words)
    • Common things you can prompt your child to ask for that can help prevent difficult behaviors may be : a break (riding in the cart instead of walking or stepping out of the store for a minute), a snack or drink, preferred sensory input such as deep pressure or headphones.

5. Provide Reinforcement

    • Praise your child for their good behavior throughout the trip. This can help motivate them to stay focused and engaged while shopping.
    • You can also provide them with those preferred items including snacks, drinks, or toys for a limited amount of time and then re-present them when your child has another success.
    • These successes can be small such as following a direction like “come here” or bigger like keeping their hands to themselves during the entire trip.

6. Fun:

    • Going to the store can be a challenging experience for you and them, so try to remain calm and make the trip as fun as possible..
    • Turn shopping into a game like a scavenger hunt or a cart racing game!
    • You can always ask your teachers, Behavior Analysts, Speech and Occupational Therapists, and other support networks for helpful ideas or a helping hand!

Overall, with the implementation of some simple interventions before, and during the trip, you can make the store easier and more manageable for both you and your child. By creating a positive and supportive shopping environment, you can help your child feel more comfortable and confident while navigating the grocery store.

Reviewed by:

Kayli Pledger
Kayli PledgerBCBA
Kayli Pledger is a BCBA with a Masters of Science in ABA. Originally from Alabama, Kayli is currently serving families in the greater Atlanta area. Kayli began her career in ABA volunteering in her highschool’s special needs classrooms as a participant of lower Alabama’s project outreach program. Being a part of the project outreach program allowed her to connect with the science of ABA and experience what a difference a compassionate and accepting individual could make in the lives of those effected with neurodivergent diagnoses. Kayli is passionate about advocating for individual needs and making sure that every individual gets the opportunity to flourish with their own personality and independence. Kayli enjoys working with families to design goals that make everyday life easier, more accessible, and overall more enjoyable. When working on learning opportunities Kayli focuses on helping learners get into their less restrictive environments and increasing independence with an emphasis on allowing them to continue to show their individuality. In the future Kayli would like to create a system to continue to help support and educate families that may not need full time ABA services, but would benefit from further ABA education and behavioral support. In her spare time Kayli loves to read and listen to K-pop and as an added fun fact she can spin fire fans like a circus show!

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