Going out to eat at a restaurant can be difficult for any family, but especially for families of individuals with autism. This page was designed to provide you with tips and resources to help make dining out a successful and enjoyable experience for everyone!
Things to Do Before You Go Out to Eat
One successful strategy when dealing with an unfamiliar routine is to prepare the individual ahead of time. Preparation can greatly reduce anxiety in unfamiliar environments and helps a person know what to expect.
Take time to plan and prepare for going out to eat by considering the following questions:
- Where are you going?
- Is it an over-stimulating environment?
- Has the individual been there before?
- How long will you have to wait for a seat?
- What time of day are you going?
- Can you make a reservation?
- What types of (favorite) foods do they serve?
- Can you print the menu out at home?
- Have you marked the event as special on the calendar?
Pretty much everyone loves to be treated to a restaurant meal once in awhile. But when you’re the parent (or grandparent) to an autistic child, dining out can sometimes be more hassle than it’s worth — for you, your child, and the people at the restaurant. But avoid it no longer! Here we offer some suggestions to deal with some of the most common issues parents face.
- Practice the whole “eating out” experience at home first. Demonstrate reviewing a menu, ordering, coloring or enjoying another quiet pastime during the wait — and remind him that it’s important to stay in his seat.
- Have a rehearsal at a low-stakes establishment: a fast food place or salad bar/buffet establishment. Yes, the experience is a little different, but will help pave the way toward managing a meal at a typical restaurant.
- Visit a sit-down restaurant just after opening or during their slowest hours, so any problems you encounter are witnessed by as few people as possible. Consider staying only for a single course, maybe either appetizers or dessert.
- Once your child (and you!) have mastered these steps, it’s time for the litmus test: dining out at a real restaurant
- If your child needs time to mentally prepare for a restaurant outing, let him know the plans as soon as they’re set.
- Anticipate and explain changes if a place has been remodeled or you’re going to another restaurant location of the same chain.
- Bring along food from home if needed, as well as any favorite toys, games or books.
- Have your kids use the bathroom before leaving the house so you can hopefully avoid grappling with the public restroom rules
- Head off any problems at the pass by choosing a restaurant renowned for fast service (or at the very least, tell the server you’re in a rush).
- Consider letting the server know of your child’s special needs — perhaps in the context of asking for speedy service, or to help explain why your son is completely ignoring the question, “So what would you like to drink, young man?”
- Stay at your child’s side every moment — and be sure not to get so caught up in the amazing nachos or a great conversation that you forget to pay attention to what he or she is doing. Autistic kids may not think twice about leaning over and swiping a few fries from the guy at the next table, or staring down the teenager in a nearby booth.
- Don’t wait until juice has been spilled all over your pants before asking that your child’s drink be served in a kiddie cup with a lid.