Calling SOS: Autism-Related Meltdowns While Shopping

February 05, 2018

As an adult, everyday outings and running errands into the grocery store or the mall may seem simple — albeit sometimes patience-testing — and is a normal part of our lives. When we’re caring for a child with autism, these day-to-day tasks can be a sensory overload for them, which can lead to an autism-related meltdown. Find out tips here on how to help prevent a future autism-related meltdown.

Sensory overload


Oftentimes, an autism-related meltdown is a result of sensory overload. All of the incoming sights, sounds, smells, and textures become increasingly overwhelming, causing stress, anxiety, or even physical pain, and resulting in a meltdown.


If your autistic child has an over-sensitive sensitivity, a meltdown may be triggered by a multitude of different factors, including:


Sight – Your child may experience distorted vision where objects and light may jump around, or they may be missing fragmented images and have a sensitivity to light. Stores are often equipped with flourescent lighting that has negative effects on people with visual sensitivities.


InTextHow to help: Help your child adapt to bright lights and images by wearing sunglasses or a hat.


Smell – Department stores and grocery stores alike have their host of wafting smells. The first thing you notice upon entering a department store is all the impeding and competing perfumes and colognes. In a grocery store, they may have varying samples that produce a distinct smell, especially if it’s meat, cheese, or seafood. All of these are overpowering to anyone, and when combined with the other sensory factors, discomfort can escalate very quickly.


How to help: Communicating with your child is always a great starting point. Let them know about where you’re going and informing them of the strong smells. Make the trip easier by requiring all the family members to use fragrance-free products.  


Touch – Touch to an autistic person can be uncomfortable, and even perceived as painful. This can cause discomfort in wearing clothing or shoes, but in public, it can cause an issue if someone accidently brushes up against them or having the merchandise touch them as they move through the aisles.  


How to help: Always ask the autistic child if you can touch them. If you frequent a certain grocery store, inform them about your child and ask them to avoid touching them, such as hugs or high fives.


Sound – Noise and sounds can be amplified in an autistic person, as it can be swirling and intrusive, leaving them unable to filter the different layers of sound. In a store, music is playing in the background, people are talking, and registers are beeping. Filtering this noise is difficult for an autistic person, and they become bombarded and overwhelmed in it.  


How to help: Prepare your child and let them know the environment may be noisy. Use ear plugs, noise canceling headphones, or music to reduce the stimulus.


Sensory overload is hard for an autistic person to cope with, so working with them and making small environmental changes can greatly help.

Pinnacle Autism Therapy


At Pinnacle Autism Therapy, we use Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and work with your child in a natural environment to better equip them for success in day-to-day activities, including being in other environments, such as the grocery store or mall.

Artboard 2

Contact us today and find out how we can support your child!

Autism In FemalesDiet and Autism: Part One
Powered by Top Rated Local®