Sensory Overload - The Grocery Store and Autism

I'll be completely honest, I've come really close to tears while shopping before.  First it was just a rough week, second I really dislike shopping (any kind of shopping, if I had a wish, I'd wish for a personal shopper), and third after shopping for about an hour and half and with groceries for home and groceries for my class I had half of my stuff on the conveyor belt and realized I didn't have my wallet.  AAAAHHHH!!! That's what I wanted to scream, and I kind of wanted to lay on the ground and scream (until I thought about the floors at the store, and then I really didn't want to touch them.)

For some kids with autism or other developmental disabilities or really any kid (or adult), shopping is not a pleasant experience.  I'll focus on ways to help enhance the experience in another post, but for today I want to focus on why grocery stores can cause sensory overload.   Just a list of things to think about, it won't apply to all kids, but you'll know if it applies to your kid.

  • Grocery Carts
    • Cold
    • Hard
    • Uncomfortable
    • Child is facing the wrong direction (if child is sensitive to movement, this could cause issues)
  • Visual Stimuli
    • Fluorescent Lights 
      • Some kids are very sensitive to the flickering of these kind of lights
    • Stuff everywhere
      • Visual overload can equal chaos
      • Things out of order-for the orderly child = problem
      • Lots of fun stuff...that he/she can NOT have...but he/she WANTS!
      • Depending on the floors, there may be lines that need to be followed, or patterns that should be followed.  You know, the rules they know, but we don't.
    • People everywhere-and sometimes they come and get in the child's face to say how cute they are, or they pat them on the head.
  • Smell
    • Think of the mixture of smells in this place
      • Foods
      • Perfumes
      • Odors
  • Auditory
    • Lights buzzing
    • Freezers humming
    • Footsteps from every direction
    • Phones ringing
    • Adults talking on phones
    • Children crying
    • Cash registers beeping
    • Conveyor belts going and stopping
    • The butcher's machines slicing
    • Squeaky grocery cart wheels
  • Time
    • Sometimes the amount of time required in a grocery store is just too long!  That's how I feel anyway.
    • Waiting in lines
      • Boring
      • Lots of temptations around that you're not supposed to touch
      • People standing too close
  • Attention
    • Parents attention is not focused on the child, but on the shopping (so it can get done as quickly as possible.)
Joy Mano
Utah PLAY Project Home Consultant
Early Intervention Treatment for Children With Autism

photo credit: B Tal via photopin cc


  1. good things to think about! thanks joy.

  2. Thanks for reading, and thanks for your comment!