Monday, February 21, 2011

A Common Asperger's Syndrome Symptom Is Meltdowns - 7 Tips for Avoiding Meltdowns in Stores

There are many troubling symptoms of Asperger's syndrome, but perhaps one of the most frustrating can be when your child has trouble in public places, such as a store. If you are the parent of someone with Asperger's, you probably already know what I mean. Trying to bring your child to the grocery store can be a nightmare, because they either dart all over the place looking at things and won't stay with you, or they get so terrified they won't even walk or move.

Add that to the tantrums that so often happen, the crying, the yelling, the occasional throwing of grocery items around, and it's enough to make any parent run for cover. Other parents are pointing at you, wondering why you can't control your child. So what should you do?

First Step: Understand the Causes of Asperger's Meltdowns

Well, the first step is to understand why this behavior is happening. The culprit here, more likely than not, is sensory issues. Consider how much is going on in your typical chain grocery store. There are incredibly bright lights, loud noises from the dinging of the check-out counter, lots of people everywhere, talking and making various types of noise. There is the sound of the squeaky wheels on the shopping cart; lots of movement; and lots of visual stimulation.

There is way too much going on. This complete sensory overload is often too much for your child to process at once. This is what can lead to loss of control and tantrums.

Seven Tips for Success in Stores

  1. Select the Right Store. Consider what will be the best store to fit your needs. For example, if you need to go to the grocery store, perhaps there is more than one near you. Maybe one of the stores is smaller and less busy than the others, even if it is a little out of your way.
  2. Bring a Distraction. Try to bring anything that might distract your child when shopping. A hand-held video game, a book, or some other kind of game that they enjoy, perhaps. Anything that can take their attention off the chaos around them.
  3. Timing is Everything. Try to go in the early morning or late at night when the store is likely to be less crowded and less noisy. Ask the manager when the quietest times of day tend to be. Avoid going right after the work day ends, as that often can be the busiest time.
  4. Headphones Can Help. Bring headphones for your child to block out the noise. They can either be special noise-reducing headphones, or regular ones connected to his favorite music on a CD player or MP3 player. The music will provide a calming stimuli for your child to focus on rather than the store. Earplugs are also a cheaper, low tech way to help decrease the noise levels.
  5. Make a social story. Social stories are a way of modeling events that will happen so kids with Asperger's will understand what is happening next. Draw pictures of you shopping and your child walking along you by the cart. Write a storyline that goes along with it. "Mark will walk calmly by the shopping cart while Mommy does the shopping. If he starts to feel overwhelmed, he can put his headphones on. Mark will not run away from the cart, or scream if he is unhappy. Mark will tell his mother if something is bothering him." And so on, to try to give a visual and written representation of what the expectations are going to be.
  6. Reward Good Behavior. Allow your child to pick out a small toy, gift or food item that they particularly like at the end of the shopping trip. This will give them something to look forward to and make the misery of the trip a little less pronounced for them. It can also be a motivator for better behavior (although you should know, some kids, depending on where they are in their development, simply can't help becoming overwhelmed and falling apart in such environments.)
  7. Avoid the Store Entirely. If all else fails, consider online shopping when you can! This may not be very practical for grocery stores - unless you live in an area big enough where local stores will deliver! - but can be very useful for a variety of other needs. You can get a lot of grocery items and just about anything else you'd need on the site. Shipping is free if you buy $25 or more, and if you use Amazon a lot, you can pay one yearly price that will allow you to receive everything you buy within two day's time for free.

It can be very overwhelming to take your child shopping - not only for them, but for you too! Hopefully these tips can make it a little easier. Sensitivity to sounds and visual stimuli are two of the most common symptoms of Asperger's syndrome, but with a few pointers, this doesn't have to get in the way of your child's ability to cope well in public forever.

Hopefully these tips can make life a little easier. In addition to these 7 tips, there are many other tips and suggestions that can help your loved one live a fulfilling and happy life. A great site to find information to help children with Asperger's syndrome is the web site There you will be able to sign up for the FREE Asperger's Syndrome Newsletter as well as get additional information to help your loved one be happy and succeed in life.

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