How to make a successful trip into town with children on the autistic spectrum

This weekend I was on a mission. Daddy Bear was away and I needed to get two birthday presents plus some shoes for Big Bear. There was only one way to do it – I was going to have to take The Bears into town. On my own.

Usually I plan my shopping trips strategically. I often pop into town during a lunch break as I work three days a week in the city centre. On a Friday I get the bus home from work so that’s another opportunity to pick up a few bits.

What I never do is take The Bears into town on my own on the busiest shopping day of the week.

Nevertheless, last Saturday we had things to do so I packed a rucksack with some essentials: spare clothes, snacks, wipes etc. and off we went.

Now each family with children on the autistic spectrum will have their own challenges. Our issues are the fact that Little Bear WILL NOT hold my hand and Big Bear gets very easily distracted. Sticking together was going to be an issue.

It’s never going to be easy and our trip wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. However, there are some things you can do to give it a better chance of being a successful excursion.


Consider how you will get there

What will give your trip into town the best chance of success? Taking the car, getting the bus or train, or even getting a taxi? We went for the bus because Big Bear has a free bus pass. It’s also difficult and expensive trying to park in the city centre so I weighed up that the bus was our best option.


Don’t be too ambitious

It’s tempting to make a long list of things you need to get while you’re in town but believe me it ain’t worth it. There’s a limit to how much walking around town The Bears will tolerate so we needed to be as quick as possible. We needed two birthday presents, two birthday cards and a pair of shoes. Anything else would have to wait or get ordered online. Make a list and stick to it.


Plan your route

What will be the easiest route around town so you’re not going back and forth? For our trip, I knew we needed to buy one of the presents and both cards before going for lunch as they were on our way to the restaurant. We would buy the second present and the shoes on the way back to the bus.

Consider anything you might encounter on the way that they might find more difficult. For example, Big Bear was really scared on the first escalator we went on during our trip. I couldn’t carry the shopping bag and, at the same time, hang on to both Bears safely so we sought out lifts after that.

Consider how to prepare the kids

Do you need to create a social story to help the kids understand exactly what’s going to happen if going into town is something you don’t do very often? Do they need a special toy or their favourite music to help them stay calm in the crowds? Little Bear took his Sweep puppet and Big Bear wore a lanyard, which is one of his special interests, when we went. Sweep came in useful when Little Bear refused to hold my hand but was happy to hold Sweep’s, with me holding the toy’s other hand.


Plan regular breaks

We arrived in town at 11am so I planned lunch at Wagamamas (great kids menu) for 12 which nicely broke up our trip and gave The Bears chance to rest their legs. After buying the second present, we went to the shoe shop, before catching the bus, which gave them chance to have another sit down. Little Bear played quietly with the toys in the shop as Big Bear tried on his shoes. It goes without saying you need to know where the toilets are along your planned route.


Know where the quiet places are

If the noise and the crowds become overwhelming for the child/children, it’s important to know where  on your route you can go to calm down and reset. Whether that’s a cafe with a quiet area, the toilets of a department store or even a library, it’s good to have an escape plan. Our route went through a posh shopping arcade with two sets of fountains which always fascinate The Bears. Yes they stuck their hands in the water, despite disapproving looks from other mums, but it provided the sensory feedback they needed to regulate themselves.


Pack drinks and snacks

Obviously. It goes without saying really. Every. Time. You. Leave. The. House.

Consider a treat

By the time they got back on the bus to go home, The Bears were pretty tired and I encouraged them to walk the final part of the journey by giving them a chocolate coin each. Bribary? Yes, but I’d argue there is a time and a place for it. Alternatively, raid their money boxes, give them a budget and let them pick something from a toy shop, Poundland or Wilko.


  • Have I missed anything? What are your top tips for a successful trip into town? Let me know in the comments below.
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