What It's Like to Go to the Supermarket as a Person on the Autism Spectrum

The car pulls up, you seem in a delighted mood to go shopping and get all the things you need for the week to come, but you know your limits. The car park is suspiciously busy. You think to yourself, “Is this for the shop or just for town parking?” You hope for the latter as the big bold title of the supermarket approaches you with every step you make. Your chosen battle weapons: a handheld scanner, a shopping trolly, an over-enthusiastic parent, sister and grandad and your handheld secret weapon… your smartphone with earphone armor.

The doors open, and you enter cautiously and come facing the fruit and veg section full of colors and bright, peppers, tomatoes and bananas. The sounds are blaring. Beep. “Thanks for shopping with us.” “I haven’t seen you in ages, we should get coffee sometime.” It hits you. You feel like a mouse in a cat’s home, but you are resilient and you keep moving. An army of shoppers march in off-beat time and sound, handheld scanners look for their prey, you attempt to block out the sound with some conversation of your own. “What’s next on the list?” But the armed shoppers progress and your parent seems little disturbed by the war zone taking place.

Your mission is simple: get party food and booze. Every step, though blasting your senses, is a step further to victory. Bleep. Bleep. Bleep. Blurp. Blurp. Ping. Mission accepted. Mission in progress.

You turn to the quiet aisle: canned food, preservatives and dried food. It is unlikely you’ll need anything but best check. The row is mainly browns and oranges, less diverse. This is a sweet relief after the horror show of vibrant vegetables… but good things rarely last. In this game, “the calm before the storm” is applied to the next level: dairy products, cold meats and ready meals.

This row is flooded, a dynamic, chill factor of icy winds and unsolicited smells. Many shoppers find their way here in quick time; the milk, the cheese, the yogurt and pastry can all be found here. You are bubbling up inside. You seem like a snail with a broken shell. Your defenses are weakening. Time to get out the secret weapon: the headphones. You open your handbag and scramble through… a panic comes over you. Your parent looks at you. “You can put your earphones in if you like…” You shake your head. “I don’t know where they are!” You are being attacked with no armor. You retreat to a safe place — the toilets, a huge reduction in sensory exposure, and plonk yourself inside a cubical.

You get out your other secret weapon: your phone. An anchor. You look at cat pictures. You try and control your breathing. No success at first… but slowly and surely, you prepare yourself again to join the battlefield. Though without a shield, you are recharged and live to fight again. Remember:

“Your mission is simple: get party food and booze. Every step, though blasting your senses, is a step further to victory. Bleep. Bleep. Bleep. Blurp. Blurp. Ping. Mission accepted. Mission in progress.”

You come from your hideout and journey to the frozen food section. There you find your crew scanning the area for cheese sticks and pizza. You are breaking stride, determined, undefeated and ready to continue the fight. Nothing can stop you now. You complete this mission, picking up garlic bread, pizza, chicken, spring rolls, ice cream and chips with efficiency and accuracy. You are unstoppable, the best in your rank.

Suddenly, a siren screams at a high pitch, its atomic blast knocking you backwards. It echoes loudly in your ear drums. Nothing else exists except the wailing, a horrendous sounding screeching creature from the bottom of the row, looking down at you from its high chair. The battle has begun.

The creature is between you and the drinks. It seems to care little for your comrades but picks you as its enemy. Its wheels move closer, the wicked shriek coming to you… faster and faster and faster. You leg it. The sound is its weapon. Your team commands you to move out of the location. You made it… here, at last. It can’t hurt you… but something else can: a final shot of the laser handgun, and you are down.

Your comrades surround you. The army gives you odd looks. You fall into your parent’s arms, unable to stand, to think, to process. You feel defeated, crying, clutching your ears, your body shaking violently. You fought your hardest but feel like you’ve failed…

Then, at your weakest moment, your parent gives you their hand. “Come on, let’s get some drinks for Sunday.” You take their hand and though you struggle, you make it. The drinks are loaded into the convoy. You are ever nearer to your checkpoint as you all come closer and closer to the checkout.

You reach the checkpoint. The game is saved, and the final transaction is made. You walk out, though you are being attacked from all ends. Your confidence and determination to leave make you bulletproof.

Your mission is simple: get party food and booze. Every step, though blasting your senses, is a step further to victory. Bleep. Bleep. Bleep. Blurp. Blurp. Ping. Mission accepted. Mission in progress.

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Thinkstock photo by antpkr

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