3 Tips to Help With Errands For Children With Autism

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“Noooo!!!!  I want to push it AGAIN!” Declan screams and begins to try to move the cart with his own scooting momentum.  He scoots real hard and moves the cart an inch.  Scoots again for another inch.

“Nooooooo!!!!” he screams again.  So I roll him back.

We are at Target looking at the Halloween display.  Declan loves to see all of the wonderful colors, the spooky costumes and of course, all of the decorations that move.  He likes to push the buttons and watch them move, over and over again.

Did you ever wonder why they never work when YOU finally make it to the store to try them out?

I know.

The Halloween display at Target is like to going to Disney World for Declan.  He is so excited.  When we have the time, we schedule a trip to the Halloween aisles as if we were planning a day trip to the zoo.  He can spend hours there.

We move back and forth between the decorations and the costumes, trying on all the masks available including Raphael, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle hero who lives underground.  After the masks, back to the decorations with buttons.  Any time I move in the wrong direction, Declan will scream and scoot.  He is in wonderland – don’t mess up!

So how am I going to get out of there?

Children With Autism and Errands

Two challenging behaviors that Declan experiences are meltdowns and aggression.  I talked about how we handle 4 challenging behaviors, here.  Declan is learning to reason with me, but sometimes he becomes fixated on something and he does not hear me.  He has jumped out of shopping carts and run away.  When I catch him, he will hit, kick and head butt me.

I have been escorted out of a store before, not because Declan was a problem, but the staff were concerned for his safety during a meltdown.  I could carry him then.  He is getting bigger and way more difficult for me to pick up.

That doesn’t mean we can never run errands again.  I wish!  But they must be done.

Here is what I do.


Every stop is a transition and so I treat each transition the same way I would as if we were at home.  We use the “First, then.”  I write my list in and go over it all with Declan in a way that applies to him and he will understand.

I may need to get 10 things.  So I tell him

“First we get soap, then we get Declan’s pretzles and then we get Declan’s cereal.”

We get the soap, I grab some other items on my list on the way to the pretzels, and the rest before the cereal.

Set up schedule of preferred activities

The Halloween Display is a favorite place for Declan to go.  And he could stay there all day.  So I have to be sure that I have another preferred activity in line when we are done.

“First the Halloween display, then we go feed the turtle at the pond and then we go home to eat popsicles.”

Declan knows what to expect and he likes the plan.  He loves to do each item on his list.  I still get my stuff purchased, I run errands – and we do his activities.

Remember Routine!

By doing the above 2 things I am trying to get Declan used to a routine.  He does well with a routine.  We can run errands in a way that works for both of us.  But since routine is so key, I must be careful what I agree to!

If you do something once with Declan, he will remember and want to do it again.  For a while I was buying him a small toy every time we went to Target.  I did it once, and so I had to do it again.  Or the screaming would start.

I am able to reason with him more.  We talk before we go about what we are going to get.  Plan ahead and I always keep in mind, if I do something new, I will have to do it again.


Running errands is a necessary part of our life.  I have to do get things done and Declan has to come with me.  I DREADED errands when I felt Declan was going have a hard time and I didn’t know what to do.  Using the ideas listed above, I have found we can have successful errands and outings.

Is there anything special that works for you and your special person?  Let me know!


7 thoughts on “3 Tips to Help With Errands For Children With Autism

  1. Letting him wear his costume year round is a great idea! Doubt I would have thought of that. Spiderman shouldn’t be to scary for other people to see while you are out running your erands. If it makes him happy, that is all that matters!

    1. I agree – he wears a costume almost all of the time. Pick your battles, you know? Wearing the costume helps him socialize and it makes him feel good – so, that all works for me! He was Robin (from Batman and Robin) today. Fun times!

  2. I remember doing those things. I always had them take something they especially like. My oldest loved books, so that worked for him. The youngest is a shopper and always has been, so he was one I had to lay down the ground rules and had him repeat them because he was/is notorious for saying I told him something else.

    1. Bringing a distract object is a great idea. Repeating the ground rules is too – that will help to have the ideas really sink in!

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