Mom Petitions for Autism-Friendly Checkout Lane at Target; Shoprite Answers the Call

sensory-checkout2Every 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 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.

The Fragments of My Heart

I chose a long-sleeve top to wear, once again, to cover the bruises and the scratches. Too many questions, raised eyebrows, and stares to risk showing my bare arms again.

I was attacked, again, yesterday.
So was my daughter.

We were screamed at, clawed at, and scratched.
Last week, my daughter went to school with a black eye.
There was no hiding from it that time.

There are times during the day that I am scared: scared to say the wrong thing, scared to open the blinds or the front door, scared to leave the room.

Some of his triggers I know; some I don’t.

He is unpredictable, strong, loud, intimidating and aggressive if things don’t go his way. One minute he is sitting quietly, the next he erupts.

Neither of us wants to be the cause of the next outburst, so we walk about in silence sometimes, doing whatever it takes to keep him happy.

Then it happens.

Due to something we had no control of, or even knowledge of, we are the ones facing the brunt of the explosion. Things are thrown, chairs overturned, doors slammed.

Glasses are broken into tiny pieces in an instant, just like the fragments of my heart.

I watch my daughter tremble as I am dragged across the room and, on this occasion, even outside. He wouldn’t let me back in for hours.

I paced the street behind him, begging him to come inside, telling him it was OK and we would sort this out–desperately trying to calm him down for his sake, my sake, and my daughter’s sake.

Then it flipped back.

The cause of the issue resolved in an instant and–bang!–we were back to happy and playful in the house like the whole thing was just imagined.

Like it never even happened.

He can forget. We can’t.

He won’t talk about it. He can’t. When it’s over, it’s over, end of story.

But for us it isn’t.

I have had enough. The next morning, I set about calling for help. I searched the Internet for helplines, advice pages, charities, and support. I read sites through tears.

“Who is doing this to you?” they ask, their tone implying sympathy and compassion.

“We want to help you,” they say.

“You don’t need to live like this.”

“We will get you moved to safety.”

There is help! I hear myself cry. They can make referrals for the person causing this, they can rehouse me and my daughter in a place of safety, we can access counselling and support.

They all assume it is my husband.

If it was, there would be help and support available, both immediately and longer term.

Then I tell them something nobody wants to hear. There is silence at the end of the phone line, followed by a whispered, “Sorry, in that case there is nothing we can do.”

He is a seven-year-old boy. This is severe non-verbal autism.

The cause of the dragging me around the streets was a neighbour with a door open. He can’t cope. He is scared. He doesn’t understand. He needs help. His only way of coping is to have a meltdown.

What if it was my husband doing this? Well, there would be so much more help available; so many wonderful charities and groups ready to come to our rescue. But when I tell them it is a child–my son–and that he has autism…



I will be criticised for talking about this. I will be blamed for not being able to control my own child. I am breaking a major taboo in writing this.

It has to be talked about. Too many are struggling alone. We are one of the few, as we’re now getting some support. Don’t suffer alone. Let’s stop the silence about living with children with challenging behaviour and autism now.

An Autism Mom and Her Son Put Fairy Houses in the Woods for Years

Fairy Houses3For the past five years, somebody had been leaving fairy houses along the Rahway Trail in the South Mountain Reservation in Millburn, New Jersey. Until recently, special-education teacher Therese Ojibway relished her anonymity as the fairy house builder, along with her 25-year-old son Colin, who has autism. This past July, the New York Times first revealed her identity, and various news outlets spread her wonderful story.

Therese first started bringing Colin to the Reservation when he was three. The woods were a respite for them both; giving her a place to retreat to and him a place where he had boundless freedom. That was 22 years ago.

As a child, Therese was enthralled by stories about fairies, and built fairy houses. About five years ago, she began building them again, and the pair started leaving fairy houses along the trail at the Reservation. Therese explained to the New York Times, “I started looking at the hollows of the trees and thought, ‘If I were a fairy I would live there.'”

Over the years, they’ve left 20-30 of the fairy houses. The presence of the fairies has inspired many others, and families and Girl Scout groups began visiting and leaving their own fairy dwellings. Because the Reservation is part of a 2,110-acre nature reserve looked after by a Conservancy, there have had to be some rules put into place. Mainly, that anything left for the fairies has to be 100% natural–no plastic furniture, figurines, etc. Instead, they should follow both Therese and the Conservancy’s guidelines, which is that they are all-natural and made out of things like twigs and acorns and moss. They need to exist in harmony with nature, and blend into their surroundings.

During the day, Therese is a teacher for the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center at Rutgers University. She drives around New Jersey, visiting children who need early intervention for developmental disabilities. In the evening, about once a week when other people aren’t usually using the trail, she and Colin visit the houses to make repairs as needed.

Therese tried to preserve her anonymity as part of the “fairy magic” with which so many children were enchanted. When visitors left notes for the fairies, she would do her best to answer them. Although people now know her identity, she and Colin still continue their weekly visits.

Therese implores all parents to turn off the TV and get out in nature. She told Upworthy that she’s a believer in, “giving opportunities for children with autism to get out in nature and really explore and have fun… Remember that they’re children with the same interests as any other child.”

For more information on this trail, visit here and watch the video from Upworthy below. If you’re looking for a fairy trail nearer to you, we found other in the U.S., England, and Ireland with simple searches on YouTube and Google.

(Image credits: Upworthy/YouTube)

One Football Player’s Sweet Gesture Goes Viral

Bo1The feel-good photo of the week has got to be the one of Florida State University wide receiver Travis Rudolph sitting at a lunch table across from 11-year-old Bo Paske, a student at Montford Middle School in Tallahassee, Florida. The photo, and accompanying story, went viral after Bo’s mom posted it on Facebook on Tuesday, to express her gratitude to Travis.

If you remember anything about the middle school years, you likely remember it as a time of change and, possibly, confusion. Peer groups change, education becomes more intense, hormones start raging, and the lunchroom becomes a minefield. Bo, who has autism, spends some lunch periods sitting with friends, but during most of them he just eats his lunch alone. His mom said, “he didn’t seem to mind,” but it hurts her deeply.

Travis was visiting the school with some other FSU Seminoles players as part of their community outreach program. After grabbing a couple of slices of pizza, he saw Bo sitting alone and asked if he could sit down at the table. As Travis explained to the Orlando Sentinel, “He started off and was so open. He told me his name was Bo, and how much he loves Florida State, and he went from there…He was a really warm person.” Travis really didn’t think much of it.

Until later, when somebody showed him what Bo’s mom had posted on Facebook. It read, in part: “I’m not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I’m happy to say that it will not soon be forgotten… This is one day I didn’t have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes. Travis Rudolph thank you so much, you made this momma exceedingly happy, and have made us fans for life!”

Travis was moved by the post, and told ESPN: “I was just a kid not too long ago and I remember what the impact was of guys that played in college and in the NFL coming back to us…. So I feel like maybe I can change someone’s life or I can make someone a better person or make someone want to be great or be like me, or even better.”

Before he left, Travis signed Bo’s lunchbox. When his mom picked him up from school, Bo told her, “Mom, I’m famous!” And that was before the Facebook post went viral. The next day, his lunch table was filled with girls.