Autism Awareness Month, Day 28: 8 Tips For Surviving Shopping


There is no such thing as ‘fun for the whole family.’ ~Jerry Seinfeld

Well, I know they're not selling for God

The title says “Wal-Mart,” but could just as easily be the grocery store, the local mall, even a restaurant. Let’s assume the words “anywhere in public” could fill in as needed. For Aspies, the prospect of going out can be like walking through a minefield. Too much unpredictability, too many stimuli. Especially for a young person, this can be a recipe for disaster. Trouble is, there isn’t much that can be done about shopping. For single folks like myself, there’s almost no solution. But there can be relief. Today’s post is meant to be a survival guide of sorts to those jungles of fluorescent lights and overhead PA systems. I’m here to share what knowledge I have. Having worked for over 5 years in a mall full of shoppers and stimuli, I must have learned something.

Tip #1: Wear headphones whenever possible.

With all the noise in public places, it’s no secret that Aspies, not to mention everyone else, might not want to listen to Beethoven while buying soup and milk. iPods and mp3 players have made it easy to take an entire music collection anytime, anywhere. Just observe the courtesy of taking out headphones when speaking to a cashier or other employee, and it’s all good. Headphones are also great for airplanes, the gym, or other Aspie overload spots.

Tip #2: Why not try tinted lenses, too?

Wearing sunglasses indoors isn’t just for movie stars anymore. I swear by it (for one thing, it cuts down on the too-bright fluorescent lighting in most stores.) There are prescription IRLEN lenses available now for Aspies, although off-the-rack sunglasses will work almost as well. Tinted lenses also help with eye contact, which is a problem for so many. If anyone asks, just tell them you have sensitive eyes (this usually shuts them up.)

#3 Try shopping at non-conventional places such as natural markets or farmers’ markets for everyday items.

This is a good thing whether you’re an NT or an Aspie. Farmer’s markets help support local merchants, and the wares are less likely to contain harmful preservatives. In fact, if you’re sticking to a gluten-free or vegetarian/vegan diet, these are the places to go. Also, the people who buy and sell at non-corporate outlets are much more likely to be tolerant and understanding of those who are a bit different. Just saying.

Tip #4: Whenever you can, shop early in the morning or late at night.

Another tip with added benefits. Apart from the fact that many Aspies are night owls by nature (some of us dislike sunlight as much as artificial light), the obvious fact is that less people visit stores at odd hours. Less people means less stress for Aspies. Here’s another cool fact coming from a frequent late-night shopper: you’ll be able to buy perishables like meat and bread at markdown prices after a certain hour. So you’re avoiding people and saving money at the same time…how cool is that?

Tip #5: Try and find a sympathetic wingman or wingwoman to shop with you.

It’s an old cliche that women like to shop together. Another cool thing about taking a friend, especially one who knows you? You can talk to them and diffuse some of the tension. I know I always feel more relaxed in the presence of a kind friend. Alone, I feel like everyone’s just staring. It isn’t always possible, but if nothing else, having a pal along helps cut down on gas costs, too.

Tip #6: Have a list prepared ahead of time.

Shopping, for Aspies, is a lot like going to war. And no self-respecting general would ever go to war without a solid battle plan. A shopping list is a plan of what you’re going to buy. If possible, make a map through the store so you’ll know where to go. It will minimize time spent within the store and cut back on unnecessary impulse buys, too. (Hint: there’s a reason the good stuff in supermarkets is the farthest from the doors.)

Tip #7: Get to know a few helpful employees at your favorite stores. Become a “regular.”

It pays to be a regular at any store. Employees will be more helpful, and might even become your friend. Reaching out can be really difficult for Aspies, but why not talk a while with the local cake decorator or farmer’s market fruit seller? With 1 in 100 kids now being diagnosed on the autism spectrum, odds are at least one of these people will have an Aspie or two they know. You might even find an ally you didn’t know you had.

Tip #8: Relax. It’s just shopping.

It seems cliched, doesn’t it? I know we Aspies are generally more worried about the Muzak playing overhead, or the perfume wafting off the lady ahead of us in line, or the fact that the linoleum isn’t aligned at a 90-degree angle, than we are about the potential of mugging or our vehicle getting stolen. But, as I’ve discovered, shopping really isn’t *that* bad. Just take it easy and remember to drink the beverage of your choice to calm down once you’ve safely returned home.


Author’s Notes: I promise to write a couple more Autism Awareness posts and help April go out with a bang. Sorry for the tardiness of this post!

Don’t forget to click “Like” if you enjoyed this post, and add P&Q to your subscriptions.

My heart goes out to all the victims of the recent severe storms. I’m pulling for you.

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on April 29, 2011.

One Response to “Autism Awareness Month, Day 28: 8 Tips For Surviving Shopping”

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