One of the hallmarks of people with developmental delays and those on the spectrum is a deficit when it comes to social skills. What you and I may take for granted does not come very easily to these folks. The ability to look someone in the eye, give a greeting and start a conversation is often hindered. Yes, I could say that about many people I work with and those in the tech space, but that’s another topic altogether.
IT Boy is involved in a few social skills groups, ranging from 2 person teams in school to a larger more formal program that includes art and sports in a social skill based program. In these groups, they practice starting and keeping conversations and learn what types of interactions are positive and which are not. Addressing these issues early and giving him the skills to deal with social interactions is huge and I really can’t stress how important it has been for him.
At the end of the school year, his teacher said that he was talking about Stew’s a lot in school and using it to make conversation with the other kids. A few weeks ago, we had friends over and Boy sat down next to the mom. “Where do you buy your milk?” he asked her. She replied, “At a few places. Sometimes Stew’s, sometimes ShopRite.” “Stew’s?” he said. “Do you mean Stew Leonards?” He then proceeded to ask her about whether she likes to “push the banana” (she does), “push the cow” (she does, he very much does not) and so on. It was quite remarkable that he was able to use his experiences in this store to carry on a conversation with someone else.
I thought back to seeing the Robert MacNeil series on Autism that ran on PBS. It was a most thoughtful portrayal of the affects on a family, MacNeil’s daughter’s family to be specific, who have a child on the autism spectrum. I remember seeing MacNeil’s son in law having to come home and ride the bus with Nick because that’s what gave him comfort. I suppose I should be grateful that the thing that seems to give my son comfort it a visit to the supermarket.
But Stew’s isn’t exactly any supermarket. Imagine if you will a store that is predominantly the outside of a regular supermarket – fruits and vegetables, a bakery, meat/seafood, prepared foods, and most importantly, the dairy that sells Stew’s own milk. The brands are mostly Stew Leonard’s brands, or they have one brand from the outside so there are not a lot of choices. Unlike the typical store brand, these are all premium products that are in our opinion better than the so called name brands.
In another break from typical supermarkets, Stew’s is laid out in a serpentine fashion, meaning you go on a pretty set path from beginning to end. This is good because you pass everything, making it harder for those of us who forget things or don’t write lists to remember what we need to get. This is bad, because if you forget something and have to back track, on busy days you can feel like a salmon swimming upstream.
Stew’s also has a lot of things to keep kids busy. I think that’s one of the reasons Boy likes it so much. Plus, it’s predictable. He knows how the store is laid out and since we only have one path to follow, there isn’t a lot of unpredictability.
The other week, I went to Stew’s by myself on a Friday night. We were having guests that evening, and I needed to pick up a few things. I felt guilty going without Boy, but since he was off swimming with a friend, I figured it was a better option. The next morning, I got up early and went to the farmer’s market. When I returned home, he was up and wondering when we would be going to Stew’s. Both Mr. IT and I told him that we had already went and we didn’t need anything. But Boy was not to be deterred. I decided in the spirit of the Dad who comes home from a hard day of work to ride buses that I could certainly take my son to Stew’s. So off we went.
First order of business was to grab a cart. He had been demanding the big carts with bench seating, but I really was hoping to get him out of that mode of transport. It’s like driving a mack truck through the store. Since we didn’t need much on this trip, we got one of the smaller double-stack carts. Small enough that he could negotiate it around the store himself.
That’s where we grab Boy a bagel to eat as he walks through the store. It was a little harder this trip as he was walking and pushing, but he managed. In case you are wondering, YES we do pay for the bagel when we get to the cash register. Sometimes we have to say “and there was one bagel” because the evidence is gone by the time we get there, but we always fess up.
Next, the path takes you through produce and meat. The fun thing about Stew’s is all the “mini-shows” that kids can set off with the start of a button. Here, you can see the chickens singing.
Sometimes, he doesn’t get to the button first. I’ve seen other kids have meltdowns over that, but he, thus far, has not done up a Defcon level in this situation.
There is also a Chiquita banana that sings. He loves pushing the banana, and the show is short enough that kids simply line up to be the next to push the banana if they didn’t get to the first time.
After the chickens are frozen foods, seafood and dairy. The dairy has the cow head that moos. Boy DOES NOT like that, and often holds his ears. I of course am busy pressing the fog horn button and don’t pay him any mind.
The fried foods section is an important one.
This is where whatever is left of the bagel gets dumped to make room for chicken fries. Chicken fries are really a food group to themselves for the Boy. Usually, we get a 1/3 of a pound that he eats before we get to the register, in addition to the 2-3 fries the counter service person faithfully gives him as a sample. Sometimes I just put the empty container or lid on the cashier’s belt. Sometimes we get a funny face, but quickly they realize they have a hungry boy on their hands.
Here’s a look at my cart. Mind you, this is as little as I have ever gotten here. If I had not gone the night before, I would have needed 2 of these babies.
Once we get through the checkout, there is a Hoedown cafe. We’ve only eaten here a few times, but it’s a nice option that’s open in warmer weather.
There are also real live animals back there.
This shot was taken through dirty glass, but you get the idea. COWS. Sometimes they even moo. There is also a goat, a sheep, and some waterfowl.
Boy had his last birthday party at Stews. Yes, they even do that. It was very well run and all the kids had a great time. It’s also really easy – they have a party room and provide all the food, so you do nothing.
I’m happy we have a market like Stew’s available to us, but I’m even more grateful that it is such a fun and comforting place for my boy, and is helping him to be more social. If you’re ever in the NY/CT area served by Stew’s, definitely check it out. It will give anyone a lot to talk about.