As those of you with school-age children will know, it’s time to do the before-school shopping, where you get all the school supplies the school says your child will need for the year, as well as a closet-full of new school clothes (if you can afford that sort of thing). In a household with children with autism, this ritual is modified. While the modifications depend entirely on the child, here are a few things that might occur:
- Your child does NOT want new clothes—no matter how cool they happen to be. Even new socks and/or underwear can ramp up the before-school anxiety.
- Your child does NOT want a new backpack—even if the old one is falling apart and held together with duct tape.
- If your child MUST have a new backpack, then it MUST be the same style, size, and color as the backpack that is being replaced.
- If your child MUST have new clothes, then the outfits should emphasize comfort and should not be stress-inducing or exciting; whether the clothes are “cool” or not may not matter to your child.
- Your child may require a set of “school” supplies for home, as well as for school, because paper, pens, pencils and crayons are always welcome. Your child might “break into” his or her school supplies if a set of the most desirable items is not purchase for immediate, at-home use. This can also reduce anxiety about going back to school.
- Your child does NOT want a new pair of shoes—even if his or her shoes are too small or have holes in the toes and in the soles.
- If your child MUST have new clothes/shoes, then they should be as adaptable as possible, meaning that it is ill advised to get a new summer set and then, later, a new fall set. If possible, get a new set that will be adaptable until the next growth spurt, adding new items as the seasons change.
- Your child may have absolutely no interest in going shopping with you; the added stress of shopping on top of the near-constant back-to-school stress may be too much for your child to bear. If your child says, “No” in any way, shape or form, honor that choice if at all possible.
- If your child MUST go shopping with you, please respect your child enough not to drag him or her to multiple stores in pursuit of the best deals—the cost savings is not worth the stress this will cause your child. If possible, avoid peak shopping times.
For many children with autism, going back to school is stressful enough. For many children with autism, going shopping is stressful enough. Combining the two is a disaster waiting to happen. Please honor and respect your child’s needs during this stressful, anxiety-ridden time.