When someone needs to run errands in our family, we tend to run through several questions. I didn’t even how typical this was until I started writing this post. But generally, our conversation or our internal thoughts run something like this:

Should we take Alyssa?

If we don’t take Alyssa, who will stay behind to watch her?

If we do take Alyssa, will we be able to actually get all our errands done?

Where are we going and what would be the best order to each store to minimize potential for tantrums, etc?

Are we prepared to let her buy an item of her choice, how much do we have to spend on said item, and (based on the stores we’ll be at) will she be satisfied with just one thing?

Whew! I’m tired just thinking about it. But do any of those ring a bell?

Whether your special needs sibling requires three times as much time and effort get around, tends towards tantrums in public, or simply gets overwhelmed by too much activity, running errands with special need siblings can often require special planning as well.  Here are five ways to try to make running errands a more pleasant experience.

1. Prepare your special sibling ahead of time. When you have a day out planned, start preparing your special sibling ahead of time. This may be an hour or a day in advance, depending on your sibling. Let them know that you’re going to be running errands, that you’re going to have a lot of fun, and (if applicable) that they will be able to buy something special while you’re out.

2. Don’t tell your special sibling the plan.  While this seems contradictory to point one, try not to give the play-by-play to your special sibling unless you are 110% ready to swear on the Bible that the plan will not change.  Generalities such as “oh, we have to get groceries” or “we can get a snack later” are best.

Remember that many special needs kids thrive on routine and order and can get upset when the plans change.  Avoid giving specific names of a store or outlining a specific order.  If you say Walmart, then McDonald’s, but end up at Target and Wendy’s instead, it may not go well.  If they don’t know the plan in the first place, there will be less issues when the plans do change.

If your sibling insists on knowing the plan, be sure to emphasize the possibility of change. Of course, you know your special sibling best. What works for us may not work for you. Just think carefully about how much and what kind of information they need to have a great day out.

3. Don’t be out all day.  Keep it simple and know your sibling’s limits. If they can only handle a few hours of errands or if their limit is two stores, be sure to stick to that.

4. Anticipate a small purchase. Let your special need sibling know that they can buy a small item–preferably at the very last store.  😉  Just be sure they know how much can they spend, what they can buy, etc. Laying out a few options can be a good way to give them a choice while still maintaining some control over their purchase.
5. Be flexible and prioritize. One vital lesson we have learned about running errands with Alyssa is that we cannot have an agenda. It is hard to give up carefully laid plans, but there is always, always the possibility of change when you have a special sibling along. As a result, try to have a back-up plan. Can you head home and have one family member finish up the errands?  Maybe have a friend or family member on call to come pick up the special needs child.  Or, if these things aren’t an option, plan your most important errands first in case you need to head home and just plan to go back out another day.

Of course, just after writing this post, we headed out to run errands and forgot to do most of these things.  So now I need to send this link to all my family members and print it out so I remember what to do the next time we head out the door!