Many of our children with disabilities have sensory issues. One of my daughter’s main diagnoses is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Her biological mother caused permanent brain damage by drinking while she was pregnant with her.
One of my daughter’s main symptoms from this diagnosis is sensory integration issues. She gets overstimulated very easily when leaving her home environment. One of her biggest triggers is going to the grocery store.
Her senses are on overload by the bright lights, different noises, colorful things to look at, different food and people smells, and lots of things to touch. The store can cause my daughter to go into meltdown mode. It can cause mania, sleep problems, and focusing issues. As hard as I may try to make other arrangements for her, there are those times when I have to take her to a store. In order to prepare her for that day, I took baby steps to get her used to these sensory challenges.
One of the first things we did was read a social story about the grocery store. It helps her know what to expect. I then went to a busy store by myself with my phone recorder and taped some of the sounds from in the real store. We listened to this when we read the story.
Remember it is important to move to each step up slowly.
After reading and listening, it was time to drive to the store. That is all we did—just drove by with the window down so she could hear some of the sounds as the doors to the store opened.
After a couple days had passed, I felt like it was time to do an actual store visit—a quick visit, just walking into the store and then out. I just wanted to do a small trip to prepare for an actual “shopping” trip later. So I planned on buying nothing this trip. I just wanted her to get used to the lights, noises, and smells. It went well, no meltdowns!
After a few days, it was time for an actual visit to the store to buy something! For your first shopping trip, make sure you only have a few things on your list. The idea is to get in and out with no meltdowns. You need to get items that are kept closer to the doors and close together in the store. This way, for your first trip, it can be quick. This leads to better success.
As your child acclimates to the small trips—and as they do well—you can move to bigger lists and more store coverage. Remember to take small steps and do not be afraid to go back one step if you find your child frustrates or melts down when you move to a next step. But build on each trip until your child can tolerate going to the store.
If this process works well for your child, you can easily use it for different outings. Good luck!
For additional ideas on outings, look at Tips for Public Outings under Navigating Daily Life on this website.