Parents of children on the Autism Spectrum

Strategies for going out

Going out
We discussed the experiences parents had of taking their children out to various places to do different things. Here we focus on how parents managed some of these difficulties.

Some parents made sure there was always another person present to help out. The second person (whether a friend, relative or partner) could help with crossing the road, pushing the supermarket trolley or helping to keep the children safe. Others used various ways of letting people know that their children were on the autism spectrum, by talking to their children in a particular way and also by telling people directly. Other parents found it helped when they handed out National Autistic Society (NAS) cards that informed people about autism. The parents who used these cards found them an effective way of letting people know without having to go into much detail with them.

One mother had been teaching her daughters to act appropriately in public and they were learning to wait in queues. While some people stared it was more out of curiosity and she had been “mostly impressed with people’s kindness” once they understood the children had autism. Another mother was working with an autism outreach team to help her son manage supermarkets. They were breaking the shopping down into small tasks by only buying one or two items at a time.
Some parents of younger children described feeling embarrassed when they went out with their children.
Other parents used to feel embarrassed but had reached a point where they didn't care; they felt that the problem lay with the people who were staring. One mother used to feel awful when her son went into meltdown but she had reached the point where she thought; “If they want to judge me as a bad mother that is fine. I have got broad shoulders. If they want to judge my son as a bad son, that is fine. He is my son, not theirs”.

Limiting going out
Many of the parents had limited how much they went out because of these difficulties and this could be isolating. They didn't go to visit friends or family because other people could find their children difficult to deal with; it was also hard not to be able to do anything spontaneously. One mother said, “I see cars with bikes in the back and the surf boards and the happy families going off on holidays and we don’t have that”; another said that she and her son kept to themselves a lot because it was hard going out.

Other ways parents found to get around the problem of going out included doing the shopping when the children were at school, internet shopping, going to the cinema at a quiet time or a special screening for disabled children and preparing the children well in advance of an outing. Other parents described ringing places in advance to check for various flashpoints such as scary pictures on the wall, vases of flowers on the table or the need for their children to eat particular foods. One parent had learned to prioritise over the years and had got herself a group of friends who accepted the situation, not friends “who would judge you for it”. Some parents had become more equipped to deal with the general public over time and described how they sometimes responded to the “tuts” and stares when they were out in public.
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Last reviewed January 2015.

Last updated November 2012.

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