Taking our grandchildren with autism to public places – grocery stores, restaurants, playgrounds, medical offices, etc. – can offer unpredictable challenges, especially since we usually don’t have nearly as much experience as autism parents do.
Public places are different from our grandchildren’s familiar comfort zones, and they can present a smorgasbord of sensory information that can produce significant stress. This can result in difficult and even dangerous behaviors. The general public usually doesn’t realize that “effective parenting techniques” often don’t apply to autism, and thus we and our grandchildren can be the focus of judgment from strangers.
One of my granddaughter’s regular outings is for healthcare appointments. She does great now, but there used to be significant problems. She usually screamed, always had to be forcibly held to be weighed and measured, fought blood pressure and temperature gauges, and on and on. And everything about dental appointments was just awful.
But the good thing about healthcare appointments is that folks have empathy and understanding - but that’s usually not the case with other public settings. So how can we prepare and what can we do?
Autism Speaks offers guidance that may be helpful: https://www.autismspeaks.org/expert-opinion/parents-child-autism-seek-help-public-meltdowns
Here are some of the suggestions:
Role Play – At home go through the motions of what the forthcoming public outing might be: entering the grocery store, getting the cart, selecting items for purchase, checking out, etc.
Start Small – The initial grocery outing might include simply parking and walking across the parking lot and entering – then immediately leaving and going home.
Involve – For example, get your grandchild to put the items in the cart.
Distract – Have a favorite toy ready if needed.
Teach Coping Strategies – Close eyes and count to 10, etc.
Reward – A favorite candy or use of the iPad.
Of course every autistic person is different and what works for some doesn’t work for others.
What about significant negative behaviors such as a full-blown meltdown? How can we prepare? What can we do? Following are some things to consider:
Teach and practice some basic things such as walking together and standing in line.
Scout out the location in advance – and/or call and ask questions.
If a bad situation does happen, stop everything and make your grandchild’s safety your priority. And stay calm.
Ask bystanders to help: “My grandson has autism; it will help if you can give us some space.” Or, “Can you please remove [dangerous object] from this area?” Or, “Please get the manager.” Or, “Please call 911.”
Some autism grandparents carry explanatory cards to give to nearby strangers: “My grandchild has autism. She is not misbehaving.” There are some excellent examples of cards on this site: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/468585536200210348/
Bad public outings will happen. But they don’t mean that we should quit trying.
An additional website that is helpful regarding public outings is: https://www.childrens-specialized.org/Content/Uploads/Childrens%20Specialized/KohlsAutism/Autism/Tip%20Sheets/Real-Life-Tips-for-Kids-with-Autism-Challenging-Behaviors-Public-Places.pdf
And this website has links to additional 9 additional sites that provide helpful information regarding managing challenging behaviors including meltdowns.
If you’re like me, you’re anxious regarding public outings with your grandchild. Will she “behave”? Will she do inappropriate things that involve other persons? What “rewards” should I have handy? And if you are like me, it’s so much easier to just stay at home and forego any public outings – but you realize that public outings are helpful to your grandchild’s continued progress in being able to relate to “normal” society.