We caught up with vlogger, author and podcaster extraordinaire, Kevin Chapman, who shares how challenging it can be visiting the local supermarket with his 12 year old autistic son, Andy, and what processes they have to put in place to reduce the chances of him having a meltdown. 

Why is Autism Hour important to you? 

Shopping is a real challenge for our family – in fact, we didn’t take our son, Andy, shopping at all for almost 2 years after an incident when he got so distressed with the experience that he took off all of his clothes and dropped to the floor. I was at work at the time, nearly 10 miles away, with our car – he’d walked there with his mum and there was no way for her to get him to even put his clothes back on, or sit up, never mind a way to get him home. When I finally got there he’d been naked on the floor for over 20 minutes, and even then we couldn’t get him dressed, so we had to drape a coat over him and carry him naked across the car park to our car to get home. He finds shopping a little easier now, but is still not keen on it, so Autism Hour is great for our family because it lets us go out to the shops together. 

What is a shopping experience like for you?  

We have to plan any shopping trips with Andy in advance – he needs to know where we’re going, what we’re going for, and he counts down the amount of things we put in the trolley – he begins to get very distressed if we get in to double figures. He also loves filming the checkouts – he loves all kinds of electronic things, so supermarket checkouts are great fun for him. 

Have you ever experienced a time when a member of staff/shop has made an effort to be understanding of autism or a sensory issue?   

As mentioned above, the experience from a few years ago, although distressing for Andy and difficult for us, really painted that supermarket in a positive light. Considering they had a naked 12 year old boy lying down in their store entrance, they never once tried to get us to leave, or asked us to make him stop – they checked if we were OK, and asked if there was anything they could do to help. They waited patiently while I travelled to help, and were just generally very friendly and supportive throughout. 

What could shops do to make the experience better for you?  

Our biggest difficulty is when products are moved around the store, seemingly randomly, especially when the signs above the aisles don’t match the products in them. If Andy knows we’re shopping for crisps, and he knows where they are, he’ll go to that aisle and it’s distressing if that aisle is now breakfast cereal but still labelled crisps, and he’s very reluctant to walk around the shop looking for where the crisps have gone – he can’t stand the repetitiveness of just going up and down aisles without a purpose.  

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The National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour, supported by The Entertainer