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Who doesn’t remember a good scavenger hunt as a child? It was fun to be at a party, divide into teams and go out into the neighborhood to find items. Well, good fun is good fun.

A few years ago, I worked at home with a student with autism keeping him active and involved in our community. He LOVED going shopping at his favorite stores. He would go there, seek out his favorite items and then buy them. He was happy — as long as the shopping trip went as he expected.

This student happily went to his stores of choice to shop for his preferred items. I decided to challenge this student by creating shopping experiences at places he did not necessarily like for items in which he had no interest. After all, sometimes we parents need things (like toilet paper or food for dinner) that don’t interest our kids, right? I knew that creating these shopping experiences could lead to potential meltdowns, but one of my purposes with this student was to create learning opportunities.

Thus, the scavenger hunt idea popped into my head. I asked the father about stores where he shopped. He mentioned Home Depot and gave me a look of warning about taking his son there. Apparently, they had quite an experience there and dad had no interest in returning with his son. Interestingly, in my head popped “Party City” located right next to Home Depot. This made my life easier. If I could get his son to complete a shopping trip at Home Depot, he could earn a balloon at Party City – one of his favorite stores.

I created a visual scavenger hunt for Home Depot including google images of many items in the store. The list had check boxes for this child to mark as we located each item. It also created a visual beginning, middle and end for the shopping trip. The bottom of the list read “ALL DONE” next to the Party City logo and a picture of his reinforcer balloon. Our first trip to Home Depot included a meltdown in the paint department, but I just waited him out. We then proceeded to each item. He put up some opposition, but in the end, we got to “ALL DONE” and headed next door to Party City where he happily asked for his balloon and left the store with a smile.

I have used these scavenger hunts to get students to simply get out of a vehicle and walk through a park (using google images from those locations). I have also used a similar scavenger hunt for a student to use on a classroom computer to do more thorough internet searches outside of his comfort zone. They are easy to put together and solve so many challenges our students face both inside and outside of the classroom.

Think of how you can use a scavenger hunt approach to encourage your child to go beyond his/her comfort zone.