What do you do when your autistic child starts screaming in Tesco?

What do you do when your autistic child starts screaming in Tesco?

I’d love to say we’ve all been there, or we’d all know how we would react, but the likelihood is when it happens, it is a shock, completely unexpected, and above all, completely unfathomable! I mean, does he hate sliced bread that much?

The truth of the matter is Logan had recently started school and was starting to get to that point children do when they start school where they are tired and overstimulated. Most things that were out of the ordinary or against expectation seemed to be getting on top of him.

Before we visited Tesco, and through some trigger, Logan had remembered a trauma from 2 years ago that resulted in him randomly screaming, “I don’t love it”, at home. This memory related to a relatively everyday thing when we were on holiday in Gran Canaria, a street performer was dressed as a clown, playing a kazoo, and some drums were made from old piping! Normally, this would be relatively entertaining! But Logan made us aware he didn’t like it, so we moved him away, and since then, he randomly remembers this clown and starts to scream! Fun times!

So, taking us back to Tesco, Logan was sitting in the trolley, and we were doing our normal – walking around chatting away and singing songs (yes, I do sing songs in Tesco!!) when he suddenly started screaming “I don’t love it, I don’t love it” as high as his vocal chords would let him.

What do we do in this scenario? Well, we have many options:

  1. Wait for the ground to open up and hope it swallows you whole…
  2. Look around at the people staring and pray one of them is an exorcist…
  3. Push the trolley away and pretend he isn’t with you…
  4. Counter the scream by laying on the floor, hitting it with your fits and screaming louder…


  1. Ignore the world around you, focus on your beautiful, traumatised little boy, reassure them that all is ok, talk them down and keep singing, and above all, keep smiling!

I mean, any of 1-4 would be hilarious, but the only way to handle this situation is to remain calm and focus on the task at hand. So how do we do this when every part of us is thinking “What do I do now?”? Let’s break it down…

  • Ignore the world around you
This is probably one of the hardest things to do. In a world where we are so aware of others and their thoughts and options, and we care about the way someone we don’t know perceives us, how do you ignore the world around you?
Over many years, I have trained myself to disregard how others perceive me. This is not an easy exercise, so for the sake of argument, let’s pose a question: why do the opinions of others matter so much? If the old lady with a handbag (you know the type) is looking on in disgust, why does it matter?
Ok so that’s two questions, but you get the gist. So, assuming that you aren’t as belligerent as me, and the opinion of others does matter, at that moment you need to not look at a single person around you – they don’t matter – focus solely on your auti and the world will drip away leaving your mind and soul free to do what needs to be done and….
  • Focus on your beautiful, traumatised little boy
Yep, that’s it. All you need to do right now is focus on your auti. Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand where their head is at, try to understand what is it they are trying to say and what has triggered their screaming.
This will pay dividends in the weeks/months/years to come as we have found traumas that happened years ago can just pop in there and happen again, anytime, anywhere, and developing an understanding of what triggers your auti can help you understand and deal with what is happening in the present, and also helps you…
  • Reassure them that all is ok
Sometimes, this bit can be difficult. With Logan, he sometimes takes a while to get past the immediate reaction to the resurgent trauma, least of all, understand what it is you’re trying to say. So be patient, don’t shout, use soft tones and repeat the message.
Also, try and keep track of how you respond to specific traumas; this can pay dividends the next time it resurfaces – “What worked last time? Oy yeah, it was this!” this then helps you…
  • Talk them down and keep singing
Talking them down is one of the greatest moments for the parent of an auti, the feeling of exhilaration when an otherwise personally traumatic experience ends in the cool calmness of a person who knows their child so well, and can boss the situation.
But it doesn’t start there, nor should you see it as a failure if you can’t immediately talk them down. The main take away here should be that, you will talk them down eventually, you will learn from the experience, and the next time it happens you will be better prepared and have something up your sleeve.
I can remember countless times when I have felt completely defeated in the face of a meltdown, but remaining calm, having a steady voice, and trying to understand your auti is such a rewarding process that it makes the trauma worthwhile.
Singing here is optional but it does make you feel like a boss, and then, when you have settled your auti you can…
  • Keep smiling

Now is the time to look up and go about your day. Looking smugly at the people around you is a choice only you can make, but drink in the looks on their faces where they spot the boss, can see that you have owned it, and are moments away from a slow clap.

And above all, you keep smiling.

Now, the big question on your lips is well, Graham, what did you do when Logan screamed! 

Well, let me tell you!

I was mid-song, Bohemian Rhapsody I believe, and Logan clearly decided my vocal performance was just too much to bear… “I don’t love it, I don’t love it” rang out. So, I focussed on Logan, cuddled him and stroked the back of his neck (techniques from previously) and once I’d listened to and understood why he was screaming I remembered a previous success where I distracted him to something that happened that same day where we encountered another drummer and he let Logan’s sister play on his drum, ”that was kind wasn’t it Logan”, also reminding Logan that we never need to go back on holiday and the clown will stay on holiday. He calmed down, we had a cuddle and went looking for cake.

Bossed it.

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