I find myself thinking about all the crazy things that we have experienced taking N to the store. Decided to write about it. If you opened this post last evening and discovered there was nothing – I apologize. I should never, ever, write this blog from an ipad. Unexpected things happen…
At first when N was a baby, going to the store was very stressful because he screamed most of the time he was there. And I of course noticed that all the other babies were sleeping or otherwise cooperative. We were always the distraction, the WTF is that? I did not know what was the problem at first, but later I discovered that it was sensory overload for him. I had to go shopping, I had to drag him along. I had to endure the screaming and the stares.
As he got a bit older he was able to manage sensory overload by focusing on visually repetitive things in the environment. In stores, it was ceiling fans. Trips to the store could take hours, because he would find a ceiling fan and want to stay under it, forever. Trying to remove him from under the fan without a meltdown was no easy matter. I developed my own strategies. Sometimes I could direct his attention to the existence of other ceiling fans in the areas of the store which I needed to visit. That allowed me to get my shopping done on quite a few occasions.
As N got older still, he attempted to reduce sensory pverload in the store by reducing input from the tactile sense. He did this by removing his pants. This happened repeatedly at many stores. I had made up a song to help him called “pants stay on” to the tune of jingle bells. So there we were in the produce department, N with his pants down and me singing “pants stay on, pants stay on, pants stay on all day…..” I got used to seeing the store manager casually wander by us while we shopped. As time went on, and speech and language comprehension developed a bit, he understood “first/then” expressions, so I could say “first shop, then fan” or “first shop, then car ride” and he was able to manage. Of course, it was absolutely essential that I could deliver the promised reward at the end of the shopping.
There have been other challenges. Like the time we went to Home Depot to get a new faucet, and while my back was momentarily turned, N decided to take advantage of the display of toilets. Fortunately I stopped him in time. However I yelled “NO” so loudly that the entire store was alerted and I soon had an audience while I pulled up his pants and hurried him to the washroom.
As a school aged kid N began to love visits to the grocery store. He would get so excited by the presence of all that food, that the minute we got in the store he would run. Typically I knew where he was headed – the olive bar. However I could tell by the looks we received from the other shoppers that we were going to get booted if this kept up. I had to find a way to keep him close to the cart. So yes, I slid down the slippery slope. I would grab a bag of chips as soon as we went in the door, open it and tell N that the chips stayed in the cart. The magic of food! Obediently he stayed beside the shopping cart, munching his chips. One day there was a very fat man in the aisle with us. I could see N looking at him and when he went up to him I tried to call him back, knowing that something not good was about to happen. N produced his index finger and proceeded to press it deeply into the man’s fat. A Pillsbury Dough Boy. The man instantly turned red and got very angry. He marched over to me and said “that was terribly rude…” I thought he was going to hit one of us. I apologized and tried to explain that he has autism, that he does not understand. The man was not impressed with my explanation, it was one of those judgement moments I know only too well.
Walmart has also been the scene of our autism antics. When N was 4 or 5 he suddenly took off into the Walmart warehouse room (which is almost as big as the retail store) when my back turned for a second. I did not see him go. Frantically I looked up and down the aisles. No N. I called his name but he did not reply. He never responds, even now at age 11, he does not understand that he is missing because he knows where he is at all times. I started asking strangers if they saw a little boy with a Thomas the Tank Engine toy in his hands but nobody had seen him. I kept looking. Then I heard a familiar whoop and I ran in the direction it came from. There were two Walmart employees guiding N from the back room. I burst into tears of relief. “He was all the way at the back of the loading docks, spinning the wheels on the shipment of bicycles that just came in!” one of them told me. “We asked him his name but he would not answer!” Of course, he cannot speak. I peeked through the swing doors that N had entered and saw, to my amazement, at the very back of the warehouse, the silhouette of a rack of bikes. How did he notice that? It was something at Walmart that spinned.
A few years later there was another Walmart N-ism. It was summer, our local Walmart had a dazzling display of outdoor patio furniture along the main corridor of the store. N found a striped swinging double hammock in a tent enclosure that he liked, and crawled under it. He laid down on the floor, and refused to come out from under the it for 4 hours. I was down on my hands and knees trying to push him out, or drag him out. He had hold of the legs, he refused to budge. I also tried to entice him out with gummy worms, jelly beans, swedish fish, all the usual ammo. When food did not work, I knew I was in trouble! I tried to fake him out – I said “mommy is going now, bye N”. He did not care. He watched me walk away briefly then turned his attention to the stripes on the hammock, which was obviously more interesting than mom doing the big exit. When he did eventually come out it was not due to any genius strategy on my part, he did it when he was ready. I was just glad that we were not going to have to sleep there overnight.
Not long after this was the adventure “N disappears at Sears!” I was looking for clothes for my older 2 boys at Sears when all of a sudden, N was gone. Panic. He could not have gone far, not that fast. I wandered around the racks of clothing, calling his name in vain. I searched the aisles but he was nowhere to be seen. Then I heard the sounds, the high pitched gibberish, the musical vocal glissandos. Tried to figure out,
where it was coming from and eventually I zeroed in on a clearance rack near where I lost him. I started separating the clothes and lo and behold there he was with his eyes closed and his hands on his ears, escaping from the unpleasant and overly stimulating clothing department.
Those are some of my favorite stories – there are others like the IKEA bed fiasco, the IKEA warehouse rack of furniture climb. There is swimming in the pond at Terra Greenhouses. There are stories of extreme gas at a drug store. I don’t go to these places any more. I believe I would be recognized. In hindsight these adventures are humorous, but at the time they certainly were not funny. I was mortified at times, sometimes I was at a loss as to how to handle the situation. I persevered however, I continued to take N with me to the stores, to public places. Now he really enjoys his outings to the store, and I like his company. He is my shopping buddy. We have the occasional disaster but mostly, he is really good, by my much compromised standards, at the store….