Dining with Autism

Dining with Autism

Going out to eat at a restaurant can be difficult for any family and for a family with a child who has autism, dinner out can include rude stares and harsh comments.

Children diagnosed with autism often exhibit challenging behaviors, some of which can considered disruptive to those around them. Repetitive language and behaviors are classic signs of the disorder and can range in intensity.

Some families find eating out too stressful with a child with autism but here are some tips to help you avoid some common problems when dining out.

What to do if: Your child has a difficulty with new experiences

There are many steps you can take to make your child more familiar with the experience of eating out. You can practice at home, by demonstrating reviewing a menu, ordering, colouring or enjoying another quiet pastime during the wait and staying in their seat.  Before going straight for a restaurant at dinner time, try first just having a single course at a quieter time or day or going to a fast food restaurant where less people are sitting down for extended periods.

What to do if: There’s too much stimulation

Restaurants are typically crowded and noisy — that’s par for the course. But as a parent, you know that some autistic kids have a really hard time with sounds, movement, smells and sights.

Apart from obviously trying to avoid restaurants altogether if this is a big problem for your child, you will want to do what you can to at least minimize the worst of these sensory issues. Here are some suggestions:

Ask to be seated away from other tables as well as away from the bathrooms, kitchen or main entry way.  Ask for a high-backed booth when available, or sit in a corner to limit exposure to outside stimulus. Take your child outside for a walk or to sit in the car if things get too much for them.  Try to keep your child entertained with a books or toys.

What to do if: Your child won’t stay in his chair

If you are able to be seated in a booth you can sit on either child of your child. If you are seated with a table and chairs, have your child sit in the spot furthest away from other customers (a corner by the wall or between two other people in your party) to minimize any disruption to others in the restaurant.

What to do if: People stare or make comments

It is important to be prepared to educate others about autism when dining out or just being away from home in general.  There are cards available that explain what Autism is that you can hand out if people get curious or want to help.  When possible let other people in your dining party know in advance what to expect.

How do you prepare yourself or your child for going to a restaurant? Can you share some positive/negative dining experiences? What strategies do you employ to ensure the best experience possible for you and your family?  Tell us on Facebook.