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Target, IGA stores embrace LI autistic boy's love of checkout registers

Angela Blanchet with her son Ben, 10, who

Angela Blanchet with her son Ben, 10, who was invited to operate a Target cash register after the cashier saw his distress at the all self-checkout lanes, Friday, Oct. 30, 2015. Credit: Steve Pfost

Some children need to be "coaxed" into doing things by promises of candy, video games, staying up late.

For 10-year-old Ben Blanchet, the reward would be the chance to head over to the self-checkout area at the Target store in Commack.

Ben, who has autism, has become fascinated with all things related to cash register scanning and checkout equipment, said his mother, Angela Blanchet of Kings Park.

A fan of YouTube videos, he can tell at a glance if a store is using NCR or IBM equipment -- favoring the latter, his mother said. Thanks to his musical skills, he can also let you know that a particular machine is scanning in A sharp.

So, we can imagine his disappointment when, after promised a trip to Target on Sunday, he and his mom arrived, only to find the self-checkout area out of commission.

Ben got upset, said his mother, who explained the situation to a customer service person, leading to her son being set up with a cashier who supervised his checking out his mom's order.

Told that Ben was not having a tantrum but more of a panic attack, the store manager replied, "No problem. We love special-needs children."

Blanchet was so touched that she posted a big thank you on her Facebook page. Someone suggested contacting news organizations, which she did, with a resulting story picked up and shared on From that website, the story has been shared on Facebook more than 4,600 times. On the Autism Speaks Facebook page itself, the posting has gotten more than 6,000 likes and 900 shares.

"I'm so proud of the team at the Commack, New York store for making sure Ben and his mom had the best possible shopping experience," said Tina Tyler, Target executive vice president and chief stores officer, in an email. "And I'm just as proud to know that these kinds of moments happen in our stores across the country each and every day."

Heartened by the positive attention, Blanchet said she welcomes the chance to help educate the public on issues related to special-needs children. She encourages people not to jump to conclusions when they see a child seemingly having a temper tantrum, when in reality it could be something else, such as a sensory meltdown.

Indeed, her son at age 10 may well be far ahead of his peers when it comes to developing workplace skills.

He's already a regular behind a cash register -- for their order only -- at the Fort Salonga Market / IGA in Northport, which has no self-checkout, but where "he's been embraced," his mother said. He's greeted there with a "Hey, Ben" and asked if he's ready to go to work that day. Her son has told the manager that he plans to come work there for real when he's 16.

For a video shoot on Friday, Ben was supervised at an IGA register by cashier / stock boy Austin Andrews, who said that even in his own early days at the store, "I didn't do as well as he did."

Focused more on the checkout at hand than on the camera, Ben was confident and "got right into it," Andrews, 21, said. "He was so excellent it blew my mind."

Such an allowance is not surprising at the store, Andrews said, which is family-oriented with a collegial work culture. Other kids have been allowed to help with ring-ups, and wishes to assist with bagging have also been granted, he said. "If it makes a kid happy, why not?"

Such accommodating store experiences contrast, Blanchet said, with at least one retailer where she was asked to confine their visits to off-hours, so as not to turn off other children.

In keeping with her desire to educate, Blanchet said that in store settings she passes out small cards explaining that her son is not being difficult, but that he has autism.

She's hoping to sensitize people to the possibility that this could be a special-needs child who needs some help, as opposed to thinking or saying, "Could you go away, please?"


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