Every parent knows how annoying the checkout aisles in supermarket and big box stores can be when the kids are shopping with them, no matter if the kids are on the spectrum or not. After all, by the time we get to the checkout, we’re likely frazzled and just hoping that we’ve managed to remember everything we need. When we finally roll our cart to the checkout line, we know we’ve almost made it and it’s just a few minutes until we’re out the door! But there they are—the dreaded gum and candies and toys—more little unnecessary doodads that we don’t want and don’t need.
They’re not just there for us, though—they’re placed there for the kids. Even though they want our kids to be quiet and well-behaved and good-mannered, stores seem to purposefully place this stuff in the line of fire, hoping to eke a few more dollars out of us. Instead, what often happens is that we stand firm, and our kids—who are already cranky from the shopping process—just melt down.
With this in mind, Philadelphia-area mom, Kristin Jackowski, started a petition on Change.org to “encourage Target and other big box-stores to implement autism-friendly checkout lanes.” Kristin has three children, and five-year-old NavyAnna has autism, along with sensory issues. While it may not be a store’s responsibility to “parent” our children, and many people view a child having a meltdown over a toy or piece of candy as a “spoiled brat,” Kristin says that NavyAnna has “poor impulse control,” and the checkout lane causes the most trouble.
People don’t understand, viewing NavyAnna’s meltdown as a simple temper tantrum because she’s not getting her way. “The stares, comments and eye rolls of disgust I could do without, because the situation is already hard enough,” says Kristin. In her petition, Kristin recommends that stores “flip the script and turn this into a positive,” by having sensory-friendly aisles with “sensory input tools parents can actually use” instead of candy. She recommends things like bubbles, Play-doh and stress balls—things that help a child de-stress and self-soothe. She also recommends that cashiers be given some sensitivity training so that they recognize that you “can’t always see a disability.”
Kristin talked to her Target store’s managers and was told that this sort of change needs to come from the corporate office. Philly Mag contacted Target corporate on behalf of Kristin and was told that they were looking into the request.
However, the management of Kristin’s local Shoprite supermarket, which just opened up three weeks ago, heard about her petition and decided it was a fantastic idea. Paul Kourtis, the store’s director, said he didn’t understand at first, and wondered, “what’s the big deal?” So he did some investigating and determined that “one of the most helpful things he could do would be to replace the candy in the checkout with ‘sensory friendly’ items like Play-Doh, rattles, and small puzzles, one of the key changes requested in the petition.”
Paul then checked with the store’s owner, who immediately OK’ed the change. “I just merchandized the aisle correctly with sensory-friendly objects. No candy whatsoever. It was easy to do. We’re happy to do it,” Paul said. The store will also be working with all employees to educate them about autism and sensory issues.
In the meantime, one of their 18 aisles is now “sensory friendly,” and there’s a sign on it to make sure people know. How’s it working out? “People are going crazy for it,” and spreading the word.