Grocery Store Outing

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"Shopping Therapy"

Our 10 year old son, Noah, was diagnosed with developmental delays at age 3 and with autism at age 5.  Somewhere in between those first few years, my wife and I made the decision that we would not remain isolated in our home for the rest of our lives simply because we had a child with autism who was completely dependent upon us for every aspect of his care.  Unfortunately, it took the first few years of living with autism in a world of isolation to teach us this.  Once we began connecting with other families who could relate to our struggles, and learning how to survive the challenges that are often associated with maintaining an active family social life, we began living again.  As a family of six, strong social connections are integral to our way of life.

Through the help of the knowledgeable and caring therapists at the Shafer Center for Early Intervention, my wife and I became students of applying the principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis to teach Noah the skills necessary to function in the community at large.  Now we take him with us on shopping trips, to sporting events, concerts, festivals and carnivals, and to his favorite…the grocery store.   Noah also plays adapted ice hockey for the Baltimore Saints; he takes therapeutic horseback riding lessons at Maryland Therapeutic Riding; he takes swim lessons at Kids First Swim School; and plays adapted baseball with The League of Dreams.  He attends church every single Sunday at LifePoint, and participates in 2 or more 5K’s each year with his family.  Just a few short years ago, I do not think either one of us would have predicted the degree in which Noah would be involved in his community.

Despite the fact that Noah may still display challenging behaviors due to his cognitive delays, sensory issues, and inability to communicate in a way that is universal, we still believe it is important that he becomes and remains an active participant in our community.  Our commitment to including him in every aspect of our social lives is twofold.  First, we believe that as our son and as a human being, he is deserving of every opportunity we can provide him to be an active participant in his environment and immediate community.  Second, we are committed to promoting autism awareness. People who know nothing about autism have so much to learn from children like Noah who seemingly have so little to offer.  “Lessons” related to compassion, perseverance, and humility, are often lessons overlooked as they relate to essential life skills.  We honestly believe that the lives of the people in the community whom Noah has touched are now better people for knowing him.

David Savick                                                                                                                                                                                               Noah’s dad

*   *   *

For Noah the world is sometimes confusing and over stimulating, but navigating his environment is vital.  A simple family chore such as doing the weekly grocery shopping can provide dozens of learning opportunities for Noah. But first, you need a plan!

We wanted to decrease Noah’s “maladaptive” behaviors such as body dropping, grabbing at items, or darting away and increase Noah’s engagement and “purposeful” behaviors during the trip. Examples of purposeful behaviors include: pushing the grocery cart, carefully picking up items that are pointed out to him, placing them gently into the cart, and staying connected to his father through following directions and responding to gestures and body language.

The goal is to expose Noah to a world outside of his familiar school and home and increase his purposeful behaviors and engagement to others and his surroundings.

The approach that gets Noah to this goal is Applied Behavior Analysis*.  We determine the cause of Noah’s maladaptive behaviors and then create a plan to teach replacement behaviors through positive reinforcement.  The probability that Noah’s appropriate grocery shopping trip behaviors will increase in the future depend on the type and level of positive reinforcement delivered after such behaviors.  For Noah, rhythmic joint compressions, tangible ‘fidget’ items, smiles, high fives, and rhythmic talking or singing have been proven to act as reinforcement  for these target behaviors.  Preventative measures are of utmost importance as well.  It is vital that the caregiver creates structure and routine and remains calm and organized.  Thinking five steps ahead isn’t too bad either!  The goal is not to stock the entire kitchen, but rather to have Noah work on generalizing skills from home and school, like following simple instructions and responding to gestures.  This gives Noah more opportunities to grow and become more independent.

-Maureen Rushton                                                                                                                                                                                    Noah’s Behavior Consultant, The Shafer Center for Early Intervention


* Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a science that involves using modern behavioral learning theory to modify overt behaviors.


21 Responses to Grocery Store Outing

  1. michelle martin says:

    thank you for this site, and thank you to the courageous family’s that share their experiences!!!

  2. Pennie says:

    What a great service you all provide to teachers, the community and to families. It is so nice to see young children being successful in the community while with their families. I hope the parents of Noah understanding just how inspiring they are and what inspiration they must provide to others who are in a similar situation. You just can not fathom how far your influence will go.

  3. Jeri Valentine says:

    Thank you Noah and David for sharing your story! I have followed Noah’s journey through your parents, David, but it is wonderful to actually see part of the actual journey! And,as a physical therapist who works with many children with autism,I especially enjoyed seeing what has helped Noah (and you) have success. Jeri Valentine, from Huntington, Ohio

  4. Jean says:

    Noah is so beautiful I smiled all the way through the video. I am glad he is adding shopping (and so much more) everyday, every year, to add to those beautiful eyes!

  5. Ann says:

    Watching this video of Noah I can totally relate and to see him doing so well in the store brought tears to my eyes! Shopping was once totally avoided by our family having two children on the spectrum … Now with the help of our wonderful Autism Assistance Guide Dog … We shop… We goto the Dr we do what every other family does … even though we still have time limits with the children’s patience we can do it as a family which is something our Psychiatrist said we would never do .. I am a single mom of 3… I am also a Residential Care Worker for young adults who have severe autism.

  6. mariann says:

    bravo that you made that decision, don’t beat yourself up because it took some time

  7. I commend you and your family for not only the success of your son, but your commitment to helping raise autism awareness. I too, take my son every place. Although he is so called “high functioning”, we still have meltdowns at times in public places. I have cards that I give to people who stare and make comments about him “needing discipline”. The card explains a little about autism and gives a website for them to learn more.

  8. Tracy in Texas says:

    David, you are an awesome father! Noah is precious, y’all keep up the GOOD WORK and positive attitude…you give us ALL HOPE!!!!

  9. Amanda Howard says:

    Thanks for sharing this video. My 5 year old son struggles at the grocery store and I have stopped taking him with me. It’s great to see a family that is willing to document in a public place and share the work that goes into a grocery shopping trip! Noah is lucky to have such wonderful parents.

  10. Jill Lujan says:

    Love seeing this dad using and applying the ABA resources that are made available to him. This father and son are gonna live such a rewarding life together due to all their commitment, dedication and hard work 🙂

  11. anon says:

    Uh, you can in the US write this in an IEP. I did and for movies and libraries back in the 80s. But sometimes our kids sensitivies are just that and some of it goes away with time and age. til then you have to be mindful of what and where you can go and do. I also got a wheelchair, something we discovered at her school. a loaner at firs then the state paid for it, because it for some odd reason, keeps my child calmer in big busy places that we cannot avoid. For most of our kids the crowds and noises overwhelm then.

  12. Tom says:

    I have a very dear friend with an Autistic child and I have watched their sucess over time. There is no substitute for hard work and a positive outlook. When you add love the outcome is even sweeter. Keep up the hard work and helping raise Autism awareness.

  13. Angela Hill says:

    Thank you so much for sharing !! Sometimes it helps just to see that you are not the only family fighting this fight, and that it looks the same 🙂

  14. April says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I struggle with going out in public with my 3 1/2 yr old son with autism. I Very recently decided, that I could not live scared for the rest of our lives. It’s hard work, that also pays off when you have the courage, devotion, commitment and love to help our children navigate through our society. Thanks again, because the video is also a reminder that our family is not alone in this.

  15. textile news says:

    Amazing site…

    I really liked your blog, thanks for sharing this useful information……

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  17. kate says:

    Been there, done that, glad/happy/satisfied that we did. You will be too. My son is now 29, works 10 hours a week at the bowling alley, yet can not read or function on his own. However, he charms he caretakers. Social acceptance is so important. We often used pennies as rewards (10 pennies netted a coke), and scheduled activities during low visit times (i.e. taking him to the children’s museum the day before Thanksgiving with the grands, not the day after.) Keep up the good work.

  18. Lora says:

    God bless you!

  19. Malissa says:

    Our daughter is 8 and we found out when she was 3 also . She’s a lot more active and tries to dart off all the time . I saw that you put stuff on the handle of the cart to keep his interest! That is an excellent idea!! Thank you for sharing!!!!

  20. Samantha says:

    I love this video. Noah’s behavior is identical to my son’s. My boy is 4 now and dealing with him in public can be a hassle. Seeing this video and reading your story gave me some great ideas to try. I am not sure how to adapt some of it to my boy, as he is also deaf, but I look forward to figuring it out. Thank you so, so much for sharing. This is the first time I have ever seen anyone dealing with a child like mine, and it helped so much to see that I am not alone.

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