Singing the “Black Friday Blues”

The annual holiday shopping season in our corner of the world typically begins the day after Thanksgiving. The hustle and bustle of the scramble to meet deadlines for gifts and bargains is daunting for everyone, but it seems to be particularly unnerving for some individuals with autism. Long lines, crowded stores, congested parking lots, and the sensory load of twinkling lights, sparkling decorations, and booming holiday music can be a catalyst for an emotional meltdown for some of our friends with special needs. This can lead all to sing the “Black Friday Blues.”

I saw my long-time music therapy buddy Ethan shopping with his dad in the store earlier this week. As you can tell, Ethan was calm and content in the checkout line. Dad shared some tips he has learned over the past two decades – hints for maximizing shopping experiences for Ethan. Other parents and caregivers might want to consider these helpful hints, no matter their friend’s age or diagnosis. Tip #1: ORANGE! Ethan always wears his bright orange “shopping shirt” in large stores. Our buddy thrives on routine, and when the bright orange shirt comes out of the closet, it gives him a non-verbal reminder of an upcoming shopping trip. Not only does the bright shirt help his dad keep track of his location, but also, in the event Ethan were ever lost, the bright shirt would give his dad a quick, sure-fire identifying cue to give people helping him find Ethan.

Tip #2. TIMING! Although we can save dollars by making the rounds of holiday sales at peak times, it is probably wise to shop when the stores and parking lots are less packed. Light crowds allow our friends with autism to soak up the sights and sounds of the season without the stress induced by large, bustling crowds.

TIP #3. INTERNET. On-line shopping is a bonus for individuals with autism who are averse to crowded conditions. It also allows time to browse through options at a more leisurely pace.

TIP #4. EXPECTATIONS. All of us have seen items on store shelves that we think we simply cannot live without. Individuals with autism can become obsessed with a certain item, making repetitive and annoying requests for the desired toy or game or other item. Walking through the mall can just add more and more items to that “must have” list. We can avoid the excess and keep the peace by selectively shopping on targeted websites.

Thanks to Ethan and his dad as well as other of my music therapy friends and their caregivers for sharing these and other helpful hints for maximzing comfort and joy to daily life.

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