That feeling of anxiety that causes overwhelm and eventual meltdown can be so common in individuals on the autistic spectrum.
We have recently been to some major events that could have ended in a melt down and I thought I would share with you some of the tips that we use to try and prevent the awful feeling of overwhelm.
We recently took a trip to see the Giant Spectacular in Liverpool which meant coping with a huge crowd, and it got me thinking how we cope with this in our day to day lives.
So here are some tips from our families experience.
Make use of Autism Hours
Shops, businesses and shopping centres are getting involved with Autism Hour or introducing their own.
Autism hours make allowances for individuals with autism with trained staff, reduced store lighting where it is safe to do so and reduced levels of music and tannoy announcements in store. This week (W/C 6th October 2018) is Autism Hour Week.
This is an initiative driven forward by the National Autistic Society following the outcome of their To Much Information campaign to encourage businesses and stores to introduce an Autism Hour.
Larger shopping centres and some restaurants may also hold their own Autism Hours, I find that following them on social media is the best way to keep informed of when these dates are.
If there are currently no Autism Hours being offered at your local Shopping Centre, request one. It may take some time to put it in place, but the more common place they become, the more they will become part of everyday shopping life.
Take advantage of Autism Friendly Screenings or shows.
Theatres and cinemas are way ahead of this trend with regular autism friendly performances and screenings.
They tend not to be any more expensive and are a much better way for all the family to enjoy live entertainment or cinema.
There is no need to worrying about noise from excitement causing a disturbance to others, or the need to leave the auditorium to use the loo, or to have some quiet time.
Before the introduction of Autism Friendly showings, I would always make sure we sat at the end of a row, or right at the front of the second row at the cinema so that we could leave easily with minimal disturbance.
Get to know opening times and time it right.
Shopping for us is so much more relaxed now that we have identified the right time to go shopping.
I love shopping centres that stay open late and we will always go late, sometimes for the last half an hour, but usually for the last hour before closing. Even at Christmas time the shops are mostly empty, and shopping is much more stress free. I always find that having little chat to the sales staff at this time of day is always a nice thing to do. They too have probably had a frazzled day and it’s always a good thing to make them feel appreciated and you can usually mention why you are there so late, which makes for a more understanding experience.
Keep it short and sweet
Make a plan to focus on shopping for one thing only. So instead of shopping for school uniform and visiting multiple shops on one visit. Spread it out over several short visits if necessary. Shoe shopping can always be a tricky event, especially for children, so make a plan, talk about the plan before had, keep it short and sweet, explain to the store staff if necessary, make a purchase and then come home.
Then, next time shop for school trousers / skirts in the same way or one Christmas gift at a time. It may take longer and more effort, but the reduction in overwhelm and stress will be worth it.
For Big crowds and events – make a plan
When it’s impossible to avoid big crowds for a special occasion or event, make a plan beforehand. Decide where there are quite zones if needed and talk through how you will arrive and what you will do when you are there.
When Will was small he used to have a band that explained who he was and how he would have difficulty explaining this and how to contact me in case he got lost. Thankfully this never happened, but it always made us feel more confident when on holiday for example.
Will hates it if you try to hold onto him in a crowd, from holding his hand when he was little to touching his shoulder or coat now he’s bigger.
We understand this now, but there are times that you need to know he is there and we came to a agreement that he would hold onto the edge of my coat if needed, more so that I know he was there.
Make life easy for yourself and don’t shop at all! Just about anything can be delivered to your door, easily and swiftly.
It’s often easier to allow an autistic person to choose from a website or catalogue (The Argos catalogue was always a favourite when Will was small), and then order online and have it delivered.
I always use companies that have a good returns policy too then items can be returned easily if they are not suitable.