Sunday, 21 October 2012

My Life with Autism: The Supermarket - by Debbie Pollard

Debbie, mum of Matthew, aged 10, kindly agreed to guest post for me this week.


When those of us who have autism in our families venture outside it can feel like walking through a minefield. We are only too aware of the danger. We just don't know exactly what will cause the explosion. One wrong step: BOOM!

The constant scrutiny is incidental.

Some of us feel like we are on exhibition every time we leave the house. Always on the brink of becoming some sort of grim public entertainment. There's always someone further down the food chain to feel superior to. Who needs Jeremy Kyle?

Matthew and I head for the front. Today we will enter the hostile territory of the supermarket. A logistical failure has left us without vital supplies. We are lucky enough to get a space in the relative safety of a disabled bay – our journey into the shop should present minimal risk.

Already we are attracting some interest. Well, I have parked in a disabled space and both of us can clearly walk.

Tut-tut. Blue badge nothing. She's no right parking there.

Eyes down. Focus on Matthew. I'm not ready for a staring match and I'm saving my energy for when I most need it.

In we go. I grab a basket as we pass. I don't need a trolley. We won't be buying much and, besides, I can't push a trolley and keep hold of Matthew at the same time. I know he will run, scream or lie down. But when? Where? Why? Well, I'll know when it happens.

We're in. Basket in my left hand, Matthews hand in my right. He's jumping up and down, making noises. His hood is up, providing a little sensory protection.

Why's she letting him do that?


It's the three minute warning. Matthew may need the toilet. It may just be a tactic to get away from this environment he has found himself in. This environment that I have brought him into. Either way, the toilet is the next place we are headed.

The disabled toilet is occupied.


Heads whip round.

What a racket. Why doesn't she shush him?

Can a head really turn that fast without doing it's owner an injury? If rubbernecking ever becomes an Olympic sport, Team GB is a shoe-in for gold. Matthew is becoming increasingly agitated. How did it get so hot in here? Sweat trickles down the back of my neck. Ladies it is. We're going in, and it might not be pretty.

Horrible blueish lights in here. To stop people injecting drugs by making their veins hard to see? Energy saving? Just because someone liked them? It doesn't really matter.

Now Matthew's hands are clamped to his ears.

What's that laddie doing? He's too big: should be in the gents.


“No, it's OK, no-one is using the dryer, on we go”


“No, it's OK......”

Hand dryers are scary. An assault on the senses. The air pressure changes. Any bits of fluff or paper on the floor are flung around by the turbulence. Lets just hope we can get through this without one going off.

We're in, we are out. Hands washed.

“No, it's OK, Matthew, I'm not going to use the dryer”

He takes no chances though. He's been here before. Experience makes him cautious. Hands over ears, one arm linked through mine, we make our way back into the shop. I'm bent over sideways. Do we look strange? I'm sure we do. I know I'm being watched but I've got work to do.

“Good boy, Matthew, it's OK, we're back in the shop, dryer is gone”

Eh? Why doesn't she just make him walk properly?

Shelves and shelves of things to eat and play with. Trolleys and people coming from every direction. Giant freezers hum. A hundred beeps per minute from the scanners, all slightly out of sync. Chatter. Children crying. Dishes clattering and the faintly unpleasant odour of everything with chips being prepared in the café.

We head deep into the shop. It was cold near the freezers but now it's so hot. Milk. Far from the doors. Deeper and deeper. Avoid the sweetie aisle for now. To throw us, the supermarket changes it's layout now and then. I'm sharp enough to take avoiding action when necessary. Almost there. We're here. Basket on the floor. Matthew by the hand. One, two cartons into the basket. Matthew has held up well so far. Time for him to choose a treat.

I relax a little. Rookie error. Matthew slips his hand from mine and he's off. He has carried out his own visual sweep of his surroundings and spotted something I've missed. He's on it like heat-seeking missile. Packets of sweets at the end of an aisle. Of course. A well known tactic of the supermarket. How could I have forgotten? I thought we were relatively safe.

Some people just can't control their children.

Snap decision. Drop the basket and run? Just run? I choose the latter – damage limitation is all I can do now and keeping hold of the goods will make our escape a little quicker. He's at the sweets. Two packets ripped from their hooks.

Check her running in those boots

Trainers! Kit error. Still, I've caught up with Matthew. To be more accurate he has ripped open a packet of sweets and has stopped to eat them. That packet will be written off. I'll take the empty wrapper to be scanned. There's a chance for the other packet though.

“Matthew, give Mum the sweets”

“Sorry” (a word Matthew uses when anxious or unwilling to co-operate)
I only fight battles that I might win. We could carry on this wee stand off all morning. Or at least until the sweets are all gone. It could escalate until Matthew is lying on the floor screaming and I am on the verge of tears. Nothing can be achieved here.

I don't believe it – she's just letting him keep the sweets. No wonder he's so badly behaved!

Plan A was for Matthew to chose a treat. Well he has chosen it. Plan B. Quickly to the nearest or quietest check out. Avoid the ones with eye-level sweets to tempt Matthew. Damn ingenious supermarket. But at least in this one there are actually some check-outs that are sweet-free. Others are more ruthless and we're not ready to tackle those yet.

Empty check-out. I'm so, so glad. I can see the exit. Milk on the conveyor, Matthew's hand still in mine. He'll not try to give me he slip again – he knows I'm back on full alert. And, anyway, he is contentedly munching his sweets.

“Are you enjoying them sweets? Not talking son?”

Ignorant. And look at her. A smile would crack her face.

“Enjoy the rest of your day!”

“Thank you. You too.”

Got the milk. Got Matthew by the hand. The doors are getting closer. Fresh air, I can almost smell it. Out in the open. Daylight. I can see the car. Safely inside. Engine on. And breathe!

Until next time.

Debbie & Matthew

Debbie wrote this post for Act Now For Autism, formerly known as ACT NOW (Autism Campaigners Together). Act Now For Autism is a core group of people passionate about the future and well-being of children and adults with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder in the UK. Act Now For Autism are campaigning against aspects of Welfare Reform, specifically face-to-face assessments and the Work Programme. They are ardently campaigning for advocacy to be offered to anyone who has to attend a benefit assessment.

I am a SWAN UK (Syndromes without a Name) blogger

No comments:

Post a Comment