Local Mom Launches Petition to Bring Autism-Friendly Checkouts to Target

The big-box store tells us that they are looking into her request.

NavyAnna Jackowski and her mom, Kristin, who launched the Change.org petition to bring autism-friendly checkout lanes to Target and other big-box stores.

NavyAnna Jackowski and her mom, Kristin, who launched the Change.org petition to bring autism-friendly checkout lanes to Target and other big-box stores.

Shopping in a big-box store with young kids can be an aggravating experience for anyone. But if you have a child on the autism spectrum, it can be downright harrowing, what with the beeping cash registers, crowds, and people staring judgmentally when they see a child who is, in their eyes, acting up. Well, one local woman has an idea to alleviate some of that stress.

Plymouth Meeting mother-of-three Kristin Jackowski has launched a Change.org petition to encourage Target and other big box-stores to implement autism-friendly checkout lanes.

Jackowski has three children. NavyAnna, who is five, is on the autism spectrum and has sensory issues. Jackowski says that the checkout lane is particularly problematic.

“She has low impulse control,” Jackowski tells us. “And so the candy in the checkout lane, she’s constantly grabbing at it and she has a meltdown when we don’t give it to her.”

And when NavyAnna has that inevitable checkout lane meltdown, Jackowski says that customers — and sometimes cashiers — make known their displeasure.

“We have encountered judgment from other customers and employees who are ignorant to these issues… they lack education and sensitivity training,” she writes in her petition, which had 800 signatures as of Thursday afternoon. “The stares, comments and eye rolls of disgust I could do without, because the situation is already hard enough.”

What Jackowski proposes is at least one check-out aisle in every Target store that is marked “sensory friendly” to indicate that the checkout lane is free of candy and other distractions and that — perhaps more importantly — the cashier behind the register has had some relevant training.

Philly Pops violist Marjorie Goldberg sympathizes. Her son, Ben, is on the autism spectrum.

“Cool idea!” Goldberg says of Jackowski’s proposal. “I would have loved that when Ben was younger.”

Ben, a senior at Science Leadership Academy, is now 18 and applying to colleges. These days, he’s learned to cope with the frustrations presented by shopping trips. But back when Ben was NavyAnna’s age, the checkout aisle proved to be a challenge.

“He was very schedule oriented,” Goldberg explains. “So if I said we need to go to the store to get something, in his head we now had the item and why are we waiting and waiting and waiting. The sensory issues that many times go along with autism make some of these everyday activities difficult. And a lot of autistic kids stim a lot, and maybe parents are self-conscious about it and want to move along quickly.”

Jackowski thinks that instead of having the checkout aisle filled with all sorts of sugary sweets, sodas and other junk food, Target and the other stores should be selling items like Play-doh and stress balls — items she says she buys anyway while on shopping trips to keep the peace.

“These things are not just toys but can help a child refocus and stay calm in overwhelming situation,” she insists. “It gives the family a choice and helps alleviate the difficulty of a simple shopping trip.”

Jackowski says she loves shopping at her local Target but that she’s recently gotten nasty looks from employees.

“My 7-year-old son was very affected by it on a recent trip,” she tells us. “He realized what was going on and started to cry, later telling me, Mommy, that lady was mean to us.

When she got home from that trip, Jackowski says she realized that a change to the checkout lanes could be part of the answer and she launched her petition. Once it had 100 or so signatures, she went to the store and talked to a few managers, who were supportive of the idea.

“She was so nice about it,” one of those managers told us when we called the store. “But we really can’t do anything like that unless it comes from corporate.”

On Monday, Jackowski contacted the corporate office with her idea and says she was told that someone would get back to her. So far, no reply.

Philly Mag reached out on her behalf.

“Target aims to provide a guest-friendly shopping experience, and we do take guest feedback from store managers, guest relations and social to continuously improve,” says Target spokesperson Kristy Welker, who added that the corporation is looking into the request.

Welker points to Target’s recent implementation of Caroline’s Carts, new shopping carts that can accommodate children with special needs who have grown out of the normal seating area in the standard carts.

The idea for Caroline’s Carts came from a Target employee who has a child with special needs.

“In a world with service animals permitted for people with anxiety issues and parking spaces reserved for pregnant moms, I think Target can manage one lane for kids with these issues,” Jackowski says. “It’s time for it.”

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.