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The Challenges I Face Shopping as a Person on the Autism Spectrum

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Going shopping can present a lot of difficulties for me. It is something I have been trying to improve for quite a long time. A while ago, I started to make myself go out into town every now and then, just to get used to it a bit more. When that started to get a lot easier, I decided I would go shopping every now and then. The aim of this is to make it easier to look after myself in the future.

I have become quite comfortable with some shops. The main supermarket close to where I live is now quite easy for me to use, and for the most part it is the only shop I go to. I have been there a number of times, I know what is there and I also know where everything is. This means the process is no longer as stressful. As long as I go in and buy the same sorts of things every time, I am happy. I also like that I can go in and pick up what I would like to buy, and the only part where you have to deal with someone is when paying at the end. I tend to plan what I need before I go in, so the familiar shop layout means that I can get around quickly and not worry too much about what is going on around me.

It gets a lot more difficult when going to other shops. It is not so familiar and there is no expectation of what is going to happen. When I go to my usual supermarket, it is easy to be relaxed because I know what is going to happen. In another shop, I am not so sure of this and therefore tend to worry about it. Other shops tend be a lot busier, which can get in the way of my ability to go shopping. I have reached the stage where I make myself go into unfamiliar shops every now and then. This is in the hope it may make it easier if I ever needed to go to any of them to buy anything. I would like to get better at doing this on my own, even if it makes me feel stressed out for the rest of the day.

The easiest way for me to go shopping is with another person or other people. This is better for any situation. Then I have someone there who can talk for me if we run into anyone that we know, or someone random asks about something. I can focus on what I am doing rather than thinking about what I would do if I had to speak to someone. Most of the time, talking to someone can be part of the shopping process. I find that giving someone money at the till is easy enough, but sometimes it is necessary to talk to the shopkeeper in order to obtain whatever it is you would like to buy. An example of this would be a pet shop. You cannot really go to one of those, pick up a hamster off the shelf, pay and then walk out. You need to ask the shopkeeper to assist you. This is a case where I would definitely prefer to have someone else there. I think it would be possible for me to deal with it, but it would not be very pleasant.

I know I have to learn to do these things on my own, because there will be times where there may not be anyone around to help. I am limited in the things I can do on my own because of the amount of anxiety it causes. The effects are very much the same when trying to deal with a conversation. I find that I when I need to talk to someone in a shop, I have to simply force the words out and get it over with. After that I have the moment going around my head for the rest of the day. This happens nearly every time I go out, not just when I go shopping. So it is understandable that I tend to just do the same things every time I go out. It would be a lot easier if my anxiety would just go away. So I am trying to make it go away eventually.

I think talking to people is something I can get used to. I have made a lot of good progress, and quite recently I did have to go to a shop and ask a shopkeeper for assistance. I think it went fairly well. But it did cause the stress I have written about. I have proven to myself that I can do these things if I make myself do them. But I have to keep encouraging myself, otherwise I would probably not do them. I guess there is always shopping online, but I think that would be too easy.

I hope this has given an insight into some of the difficulties I have when going shopping. I find it unusual to write about these things, because I am only writing about what I have to deal with every day. I do find it helps because one of the main issues for me is not other people being more accepting, but being accepting of myself. I have a tendency to think I am rubbish at doing things, or even that I am lazy. I find writing these things down helps me to see the things I am doing in order to improve. I also like to think I can help people who may be having the same problems; now they can see other people are experiencing difficulty as well.

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Thinkstock photo by Noel Hendrickson.

Originally published: October 23, 2017
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