One of the reasons it is difficult for me to write these posts is that very often, I have to deal with past, present, and the future of the topic I am writing about.  As I am writing, for instance,  about today’s shopping, my mind puts it in the context of the past experiences and old observations. At the same time as I am analyzing what has happened today I also plan the next step to address the issues that I have noticed. To make this post easier to write and, hopefully, clearer, I would try to artificially separate those parts entangled with each other.

1. In the past, most of my energy spent during shopping with Robert went toward keeping him seated in a shopping card, preventing him from escaping and running through the maze of the grocery or toy stores. (I did not dare to take him to department stores alone.) I wrote about the most memorable visit to the store and what followed in

2. For a long time I avoid buying articles of clothing with Robert. I mentioned such avoidance and the way we managed to temporarily address that issue in

3.  When Robert was already 17 or 18 years old and still reluctant to leave the store with a purchased shirt or pants, I decided to take Robert to Wal-Mart to buy a shirt. This particular store was across the street from Robert’s favorite (at that time) restaurant, Applebee’s. The restaurant was promised as a reward for buying shirt.  With a few reminders of a possibility of lunch in Applebee’s, Robert resolve not to buy a shirt melted.  We left the store with a shirt and went for a lunch.

4. Robert made a few purchases with his sister, Amanda, and with Mrs. Scott and Erin, his past and present skill instructors. That is important, as Robert often assumes that only one person should do a particular thing with him.

5. In 2011, Robert began to go shopping with his small class.  I observed Robert during one such trip and was very concerned. I thought that the way the teacher was directing Robert impeded any possibility of learning to be independent. Robert did not make one movement without being closely instructed.  He waited for the teacher to lead him to the item and  to point what he had to take. It was painful to watch as it was a regression from what Robert already could do with me.  At that time, I could wait in the end of the aisle while Robert went to fetch a particular item from the shelf in the middle or another end of that aisle.  I could follow a few steps behind him, as Robert went from place to place to  get items on his short shopping list.

6. I gave these suggestions to the teacher, during one of our meetings. I asked for behavioral specialists to write a task analysis, but I don’t think my suggestions were ever followed.  I don’t think any task analysis has been ever written or/and implemented.

7. The strange thing was, that instead of motivating me to work harder with Robert on shopping, this observation deflated my will to work with Robert on independent shopping. I never went to observe again, as I felt my presence was bothering the teacher.

8. This is an important observation.  I noticed that when I see the teachers working with Robert diligently I am very highly motivated to join in and support both Robert and his teachers.  When I see Robert being not taught properly, either by purposeful act or by lack of abilities on part of his educators I lose energy to teach.  I still do teach, but almost forcing myself to do so and with limited strength.  This is another negative result of educational neglect which plagues special education classrooms all over the country.

9. I remember that in 2006, for instance, while shopping in BIG Y, which became Robert favorite store since that time, I asked people bagging groceries, to let Robert do it by himself.  One purpose was to keep him occupied, the second was to let him learn.  I stopped doing that, when a person I asked became very upset.  Only then I realized that this was also a man with disability and his work was his pride I stepped on.

10. As I was going shopping with Robert this summer, we began to use self-check machines.  We mostly go to Stop and Shop, as the registers there are more client friendly than for instance in Shaw’s. (We might practice at Shaw’s at some point too, but not yet.) Robert became pretty skillful at finding bar codes and running them through.  He still needs prompts to push a right buttons when he finishes and/or pays with his card.

11. Upon one such shopping trip, I forgot that we bought fruits that needed weighing and entering a code.  To make matter worse, the code was invisible (red numbers, on a bag full of red cherries).  We had to call for assistance. That made me understand that I have to plan our trips much more diligently and do some preparation before such trip.

12. The things to work on:
a. Buying only items with clearly displayed bar code and working on attending to the direction on the screen.  how to begin and how to finish and pay.

2. Buying only a few items (three would be a good number to start with) which require entering the code and weighing the bag.

3.Buying only items that require entering the code and the number of items (when the price is for each item).

4. Whenever such opportunity arises, we will practice summoning help by pushing right buttons.

5. 6,7and more.    After  we go so far, we will work on mixing the three kinds of groceries together.

Of course, there is also a need for Robert to become more independent with shopping for his clothes. But that is a topic for another post.

All the Bubbles in the World

Little bottles with pink, blue, or green soapy bubble solutions were calling on Robert from the shelves of every toy or grocery store.  They called  in the same way the honey jars were calling Winnie the Pooh.  It seemed that as soon as we entered the store, Robert was able to localize the bottles, even if they were placed in the opposite corner of the store.  He must had either heard them, smelled them, or felt their mystical vibrations because as soon as I turned my attention to items on my grocery list or to a developmental toy I was considering buying,  Robert was out of his seat in a shopping cart and off on his quest for bubbles. Don’t ask me how this tiny peanut could climb out of the shopping cart and disappear among store alleys in a fraction of second.  I didn’t turn from him for longer than that.  My hands could still reach the shopping cart he was in or he was supposed to be in!  And yet, he wasn’t!

I found out that it was  no use to ask store’s employees  if they had seen a little, quickly running boy.

Nobody had ever seen him!

What made sense was to ask where were the bubbles. Where the bubbles were, Robert was.

I decided that to avoid Robert’s bolting, we would start every trip to the store with getting  three (one for each color)  containers of bubbles and buy everything else later.

That approach worked  on  maybe 3-4 trips to the Puritan Supermarket.  But on one of the next trips, the fact that three small bottles of bubbles were resting in a shopping cart, behind his back, didn’t satisfy Robert. Before I finished going down my grocery list, Robert was out again. I followed him to the bottles.  When I reached him he  was  carrying five or six bottles – as much as his little hands could hold.  I allowed him to  take only three.   Again one of each color.  I placed the bubbles and Robert in the shopping cart.  Robert was not happy!  He was  agitated and anxious.  As we approached the cash register and I started placing food on the belt, Robert got out of his seat and went down, inside the shopping cart stepping on the groceries.  He was checking the bottles. Clearly not satisfied, in the blink of the eye, he was out. As I tried to decide if I should take all the items  from the belt or ignore them and run after Robert, my son was back caring another batch of colorful bottles.  He dropped them inside the shopping cart and turned  to run for more.  But I got him this time.

I held this wiggling creature, who kicked, pinched, and bit.  I grabbed my purse and ignoring the cash register, the shopping cart, and all the food I thought I needed,  I carried Robert to our van.   He screamed.  He banged his head into mine.  He continued pinching, kicking, biting,and hitting all the way to the car.  I buckled him in his car seat.  He still wiggled and kicked the seat in front of him.  I closed the car door but stayed outside turned back to the door so Robert could see me but not see me crying.   I stopped crying and got inside.  I waited a few minutes longer to calm myself.  Robert stopped kicking.  He became quiet.  We drove home.

I felt so powerless and humiliated that I entertained the though of  never going shopping with Robert.   I made myself a tea and thought about my options. Not taking Robert shopping was NOT one of them. Although I could  go shopping alone in the evening or rather at night when my husband was home, I couldn’t give up  on the idea of my son being a part of the community.  I could postpone taking him with me until he gets older and behave better.  That was not an option either. Robert would get older, bigger, and stronger but he might not behave better. I realized that the longer I would postpone dealing with this behavior the more scared and powerless I would feel.


1. When I finished my cup of tea, I took Robert to a convenience store that didn’t sell bubbles. We bought just three basic items.  One was what he wanted.  The shopping went smoothly.

2. I called my husband asking him to come home earlier and take Robert back to Puritan. We discussed the issue and decided that Robert still could buy three bottles of bubbles.  If, however, he would take more than, both of them would leave the store without any bubbles at all.  They came home empty-handed.  Jan never told me how much protesting Robert did that day.

3. We repeated similar actions the following day.  I bought a few more items in a different convenience store.  One item was of Robert’s choosing. Jan took Robert back to Puritan. This time, Robert satisfied himself with three bottles of bubbles.

4.I went back to Puritan with Robert.  We bought eggs, milk, bread and three bottles of soapy solution.

Since that time until today, I had never had a problem with Robert insisting on buying something I had reasons not to buy.  Not once, he took something from the shelf and held it in front of me to ask in his wordless way if he could buy it.  I would either say “yes” or “no”.  “No”  always came with an explanation.”No, we have it at home.” “No, it makes your stomach hurt” (Soft cheese in a can.) Every time, he heard, “No” Robert calmly put the item back on the shelf. Every time.

I have to add, that many years later we encountered another behavioral bump during our trip to supermarket.  Although Robert didn’t mind putting the item back on a shelf during shopping, he DID MIND taking it back from the CASH REGISTER BELT when it was already in the hands of the cashier.  But that is another story.