18 Jan Taking your child with autism out to eat
A while ago, I posted the following question on Facebook:
True or False: You do not go out to eat at restaurants because of fear of your child melting down.
After reading your responses, it is clear that you are in MAJOR need of strategies so you can go out to eat as a family. Life truly doesn’t need to be so hard.
Before walking you through some steps you need to take, let’s work on mindset for a moment.
When it comes to the restaurant experience, the only way for your child to learn right from wrong is to actually experience the activity of going out to eat. You can talk to him about it until you are blue in the face, but unless he actually experiences it, you don’t have much chance for success.
Real life experiences are an integral part of growing and learning. If you don’t give your child a chance to succeed, he never will. This is so important. Please read that statement again. Remember when you were a kid and you thought you could do a million different things? It wasn’t until you actually had those experiences that you learned that you could really do it!
Your child may have difficulties with anything new. Therefore, you may need to go to the same restaurant as many as 5 times to have a successful experience.
It’s true that sounds, smells, and visual sensitivities can overwhelm your child. Don’t throw him into a situation where he is destined to fail. Rather, follow these steps so you can set him up for success.
Here is a step-by-step guide to help make restaurant excursions successful for you and your child.
- Find a restaurant that has food that he likes.
- Talk about the restaurant, and show him pictures online. You can even drive by the restaurant, take photos of it, and review those pictures with him.
- Get a sample menu from the restaurant. Most restaurants have sample menus online.
- Write down the rules ahead of time. Use pictures and symbols to visually break down your expectations. Include rules such as: sit quietly, wait, and if you need a break, ask for it. Role-play the different rules with him so he gets to practice.
- Create a visual that says, “wait,” so that your child understands the concept of waiting. You may need to practice this skill ahead of time at home. Let him hold the wait card when it is his turn to wait for food. When his dinner is ready, you can take the card back so he knows that it is time to eat.
- Create a schedule breaking down the dining-out experience. For example: you sit, you order your drink, you look at the menu, you order your food, etc. You can role-play all of the steps included in the schedule.
- Prepare a sensory bag of tricks to help him acclimate to his environment. You can bring headphones or earplugs, sunglasses, a heavy jacket, a few toys that keep his hands busy, and anything else that will help him be successful. Try your best to not use electronics, if at all possible, so that your child is truly experiencing his environment.
- The first time you visit the restaurant, go at a quiet time such as 4:00 in the afternoon.
- Review all of your visuals before you go into the restaurant and again once you are inside the restaurant.
- The first time you visit the restaurant, only buy an appetizer and a drink, so that the wait time is minimal.
- Go to the restaurant a few days later and try the whole experience again.
Please share us, what is it like for you and your family when you go to a restaurant?