Adults with Autism

Going Grocery Shopping

The Unique Challenge of Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping can be challenging for adults with autism due to sensory sensitivities, difficulties with social interactions, and organizational challenges. Sensory overload in a busy and crowded store can overwhelm individuals with autism, making it difficult to focus and process information. Social interactions with store employees or other shoppers may be stressful or anxiety-inducing. Additionally, planning and organizing tasks such as making a shopping list, budgeting, and navigating the store’s layout can pose challenges. Therefore, successfully completing a grocery shopping trip as an autistic adult can be a significant milestone, representing the development of various skills, independence, and the ability to navigate a complex and overwhelming environment. In this guide, we will provide helpful suggestions to effectively take on this task:

Woman Checking Shopping List

Prepare a Shopping List

Before heading to the store, make a list of the items you need to buy. This will help you stay focused and reduce any anxiety or overstimulation while browsing.

architect with house blueprint at office

Familiarize Yourself With the Store Layout

If you're not already familiar with the store, take some time to study the layout. Knowing where different sections and aisles are located can make your shopping trip smoother and less stressful. Some grocery stores have maps on their websites/apps that can help you plan and navigate your trip.

Shopping lists in app format. Shot of a young woman using a mobile phone in a grocery store.

Choose a Less Crowded Time

Consider going to the grocery store during quieter hours when there are fewer people. This can help reduce sensory overload and make the shopping experience more manageable.

Beautiful young cashier is smiling while working at the supermarket

Stick to a Routine

Establishing a routine can provide structure and familiarity. Try to visit the same grocery store regularly, so you become familiar with the environment, staff, and where items are located.

Shallow focus closeup of a female wearing sunglasses and a mask inside the clothes shop

Plan for Sensory Sensitivities

If you’re sensitive to noise or bright lights, wearing noise-canceling headphones or sunglasses can help create a more comfortable shopping environment.

Shallow focus closeup of a female wearing sunglasses and a mask inside the clothes shop
Young woman with the cart shopping in hypermarket

Use a Shopping Cart or Basket

Carrying a shopping cart or basket can act as a physical barrier and provide you with personal space while navigating the store. It can also serve as a comforting object. Wearing an additional layer of clothing can help as well.

Blurry Supermarket Background, Grocery Store Aisle With Products On Shelves

Take Breaks if Needed

If you feel overwhelmed during your shopping trip, find a quiet corner or an empty aisle to take a short break. Deep breathing exercises or focusing on a grounding technique can help reduce anxiety.

Teenager girl shopping in grocery shop blur background

Use Visual Aids

If you struggle with communication, using visual aids can be helpful. You can create or print images of the items you need, making it easier to find them in the store.

Happy woman working inside supermarket

Practice Social Scripts

Prepare some simple phrases or scripts in advance to handle interactions with store employees or other customers. For example, you can say, “Excuse me, can you help me find this item?” or “Thank you.” Sometimes, an employee will approach you and ask if you need assistance. If you don’t need any help, feel free to politely tell them that you don’t need help at the moment.

Young woman taking groceries from refrigerator while shopping in supermarket.

Be Kind to Yourself

Remember that grocery shopping can be challenging for anyone, and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Celebrate your achievements and take pride in your independence. These tips are general suggestions, and you can modify them to suit your specific needs and preferences. Over time, with practice, grocery shopping can become more comfortable and less daunting.

Young woman taking groceries from refrigerator while shopping in supermarket.

Guide Disclaimer

The information provided in this social guide for autistic adults is intended for general guidance and support. While we have made every effort to ensure the accuracy and relevance of the content, it is important to remember that each individual’s needs and experiences may vary. This guide is not a substitute for personalized professional advice or assistance.

We strongly recommend consulting with a healthcare professional, autism specialist, or any other relevant expert who can provide personalized guidance tailored to your specific circumstances. They can offer additional strategies, accommodations, and resources that may better address your unique challenges and goals.