Autism Awareness from the Grocery Store to Disney World
In light of World Autism Awareness Day, I've been thinking about conversations I've had with parents over the years concerning public outings. This can include a "simple" trip to the grocery store all the way to a day trip to the zoo for the family or even Disney World! Some are required tasks and others are just fun family time that we all enjoy sometimes.
I was talking with a friend of mine recently. She took her son with autism to the zoo. Unfortunately, he started to "melt down." Enduring the stares, judgment and possible commentary can be difficult for any parent, but it seems like it is that much worse for a parent of a child with autism. This might be due to the fact that tantrums for that child might involve behaviors with a higher intensity and/or duration. The friend that I was talking with mentioned that the hardest part is people that stand off to the side with judgmental stares, rather than attempting to help alleviate the situation.
Steps to Take
There are steps you can take to attempt to make these occurrences easier. First, you can go to the following websites and either purchase, or make your own "DIY autism cards," Autism Info Business Cards. These are business cards that explain what autism is and will also lead the person reading to a credible website for more information. You can print 10 cards on a sheet, and choose the phrasing that you want. These cards are a great resource. I've advised many parents over the years to use these in similar situations. There is no interaction required with the other person beyond handing them the card and walking away. Hopefully through greater public awareness, and the dissemination of this information, there will be fewer occurrences in the future.
Another suggestion that I would give is to attempt these outings during quieter times of day. For example, if you are headed to the grocery store, go prior to rush hour when the stores are crowded and harder to get through in general. Keep your list of items short so that you are not in the store for a long period of time. Bring an item/activity for your child to engage in while you are shopping, or even better have them help you with the shopping on any level that they can. Also, don't attempt to go to the zoo or the children's museum during spring break or any time that there will be even more people than normal. Some of these places may be willing to make accommodations, or might have "autism days".
Finally, I would also advise talking to your BCBA about these encounters at a parent training. This is a good time to discuss different skill sets that your child might need to acquire to make these outings easier. You might even be able to discuss setting up a public outing or two to practice the tips that your BCBA has given you, and they can coach you in that setting.
For more information and helpful tips regarding autism check out The Shape's Youtube channel.