A mother of a child with autism wanted help preparing her child for a grocery shopping trip. The sensory stimuli from the bright lights, loud sounds, visually distracting shelves and / or crowded aisles have triggered autism related behavioral issues in the past.

Like all moms with children on the autism spectrum, there are times when she does not have a choice and must bring her child to the store with her. She also does not want to isolate her child and recognizes that grocery shopping is an essential life skill. We applaud her efforts to prepare her child for the world.

Here are some tips to prepare a child with autism for grocery shopping


  • Use the picture story below to start preparing your child for a successful grocery shopping trip.
  • Go the store without your child to identify meltdown triggers and prepare for them.
    • Fluorescent lights – bring sunglasses or a hat with a bill.
    • Beeps on the checkout scanner or hum from the refrigerators – bring noise cancelling headphones.
    • Large crowds – determine the least crowded times to shop.
  • Have a signal
    • If your child can communicate, have a verbal or a gesture signal that tells you that your son / daughter needs a break.
  • Make sure your child is well rested before you go on the grocery shopping trip.
    • Tired children are more prone to meltdowns.
  • Prepare a schedule for the shopping day.
    • Children on the autism spectrum often benefit from a clear schedule of the day.
  • Make a grocery shopping list separated by section so you can shop as efficiently as possible.
    • Involve your child when you make the list and/or review the list with him/her before you shop.
    • Stick to the list to avoid conflicts in the store.
    • If your child wants something in the store, add it to the list for the next trip.
  • Meltdowns happen so be ready with something that will soothe your child, like a favorite toy or blanket.


  • Let your child know when you are going to the store before you go to prepare him/her.
    • This means a day or two or at least hours before.
    • Avoid surprise or last minute shopping trips.


  • Start with a short grocery shopping trip to buy a few items. A quick in and out.
  • Reward success.
  • For your child’s initial shopping experiences, you might want to go on a day that it is less crowded, perhaps Sunday early in the morning.
  • If your child is comfortable with the quick trip, gradually extend the shopping trip.


  • Go to through the store in the same pattern each time.
    • For example, go to the right to start each time and work your way left.
    • Limit going down rows more than once and doubling back to sections you have already visited.
    • A consistent pattern will help.


  • Use the grocery shopping trip as a teaching moment.
    • Talk to your child about what you are buying and why.
    • The more your talk to your child the better his or her speech and language will be.


  • Plan for the best and deal with any problems.
  • If your child has a meltdown, don’t take it personally. Focus on your child and don’t worry about explaining the issue to other people.
  • Many people do not understand autism, so If you want, you can give the offended person a card that explains autism.

The Kidmunication Point

Some experiences prove challenging for children with autism. Grocery shopping can be a challenging experience because of the sensory stimuli lurking around every corner. A parent of a child on the autism spectrum has a choice. They can to avoid the experience or prepare and train for it. We think that a child should train to participate in life as fully as possible. Grocery shopping is a necessity and an essential life skill that needs to be learned.

The key is pre-planning. Picture social stories help prepare child for new experiences. “Preparing to go grocery shopping” is our newest social story. Check out our other social stories to prepare for a school fire drill, go bowling, go on a beach vacation, go to a MLB baseball game and go on an airplane trip.

Note: We also use social picture stories for children with anxiety and/or sequencing issues.
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