A Trip to the Grocery Store: From Mundane to Meaningful

It was a typical Tuesday night. After supper, my son and I went to the grocery store.
The end.

This week over at The Daily Press, WordPress initiated a new, weekly writing challenge. The inaugural theme is “From Mundane to Meaningful.”

Since Philip was diagnosed with autism, I’ve learned to appreciate the little things. Philip experiences the world differently from me. Ordinary objects can capture his attention for extended periods of time. He notices details that I overlook.

Parenthood didn’t turn out as I expected, but that hasn’t been a bad thing. What may be commonplace for a typically developing child is cause for celebration when your child has encountered delays. Banal activities take on more significance when your child has autism and Sensory Processing Disorder. A trip to the grocery store isn’t just a regular-old trip to the grocery store. It is an opportunity.

I was running out of food to pack for my lunch, and we were low on milk. Our local grocery store has milk on sale on Tuesdays, so I knew we needed to go shopping. After supper, I grabbed Philip’s picture schedule. I summoned him to the steps, showed him the proper picture and told him, “Put on your shoes.” While he has shown improvement this summer, Philip still needs assistance putting his shoes on his feet. He also needs verbal prompting to put the Velcro straps in place.

Once his shoes were on, I showed him the picture of the car. “Time to get in the car,” I added. If I don’t show him the picture, Philip assumes it is time to play in the backyard. Frankly, that sounded like an excellent idea to me, too. I would have liked nothing more than to relax in my lawn chair reading a book while the cool breeze caressed my skin. Philip would have relished the chance to climb on his new play set, to run around the yard antagonizing the dog, or to dig in the dirt.

That was not to be. I led Philip to the car. He made a sound of protest, but didn’t cry. In this case, a trip to the store is the opportunity to teach Philip that we often have to delay gratification. I have to teach him this since he is too young to have learned from the Rolling Stones that “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

Philip found a piece of paper in the car to entertain himself during the drive to the store

After driving to the store, parking and walking in, it’s time for some occupational therapy. A few months ago, I started having Philip push the cart when we are shopping. This “heavy work” is actually part of his therapy for SPD.

Getting ready to push the cart

Since Philip is no longer confined to the cart, the shopping experience has become more engaging for him. He can see what is displayed on the lowest shelves, he can reach out and touch the produce. Last night, he was especially fascinated with a stand-alone display of fruit pouches. He not only carefully examined the pouches, but he moved to the side to peer closely at the designs on the cardboard rack. Later, he wanted to check out the lobsters in the seafood department.

Looking at the lobsters

Being out of the cart is also a chance to practice having Philip walk beside me without holding my hand. As can be the case in children with autism, Philip is prone to fleeing. He will run off if I am not holding his hand, and he doesn’t always respond to “Stop!” This happened last night at the store. He took off past the boxed meals as I bent to grab a can of tuna. He made it halfway down the aisle before I caught him. Unfortunately, the only way to improve this is to practice. However, I’d rather chase him in the grocery store then on a busy street.

Eventually, we had all of our groceries. Philip pushed the cart to the checkout. At this point, I put him in the basket so I could focus on unloading our items on the belt and paying for them. This particular store offers a “Load & Go” service. I sent out everything but a three-pound sack of potatoes.

In addition to being another form of heavy work, having Philip carry the potatoes to the car is an opportunity to teach him about responsibility. At home, I’m still trying to come up with simple chores for him. At the store, he can help me carry things. Having learned from a similar experience a few weeks ago when I put Philip in charge of our loaf of bread, last night I made sure Philip could use both hands if he wanted.  Instead of turning his task into a game of Hot Potato, Philip diligently carried the bag, only setting it down once to readjust his grip.

When the potatoes, child and the rest of our groceries were all in the car, I drove home. Philip finally had his chance to play in the yard while my husband helped me put groceries away. After walking the dog, I also got my chance to relax with a book in the backyard.

Another typical Tuesday night.
The end.


14 thoughts on “A Trip to the Grocery Store: From Mundane to Meaningful

  1. You did more than write about mundane to meaningful…you live it every day. A parent’s work is always hard even when a child doesn’t have the additional challenges your son does, but it’s obvious to see that you look for creative (and meaningful) ways to help you son engage with the world around him.


  2. Great post 🙂 Grocery shopping IS challenging but I like how you turn it around and into a learning/teaching opportunity. Do you ever find it over stimulating visually? My son loves how everything is orderly, lined up on the shelves etc but it can be too much of a good thing. He’ll start knocking or taking the sale flags off the shelves or start tidying the store. His new thing is to walk fast up and down the frozen food section…the kind with the stand up freezers and take it all in quickly.


    1. I do have to keep an eye on what he wants to touch. He has tried to take sales tags off in the past, and I’m sure if I let him he would throw objects. Throwing hasn’t happened at the grocery store yet, so I’ll have to figure out a strategy to prevent this in the future.


      1. I think it must be pretty overwhelming being in stores. I am now dreading taking him to the mall because lots of clothing stores are way too loud…music especially running shoe stores. A friend said I should teach him how to listen to music with headphones when things get tough.


  3. This post has inspired me to try some of this with my son, Joel. Normally when I shop, I just want to get in and get out as quickly as possible, but I love how you implement therapy in this process. I think I will have to take Husband with me the first time or two just to have an extra pair of hands as our son is very prone to running away, which is another reason why we avoid letting him walk through the store. But, if we want to get serious about making Joel more self-sufficient, it is going to take some work. Excellent post and I love the pictures of Philip helping out.


    1. The cart-pushing idea came from a Facebook group I belong that supports parents dealing with Sensory Processing Disorder. When I first read it, I thought, “Yeah, right.” But I’m so glad that I tried it out. If Philip bores of pushing the cart or is getting into everything, I simply stick him back in the basket. It does help having an extra pair of hands, though.


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