How did your last family visit to a restaurant go? Can you even remember the last time you ate out with the whole gang? A night off of kitchen duty sounds so appealing...that is until you remember your the meltdowns and stares from other tables that followed.
Many families of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) face unique challenges to enjoying meals out together. Children on the spectrum often struggle with changes to their routine, limited food preferences, and sensory issues that prevent them from enjoying mealtimes outside of the home.
If you’d like to eat in a restaurant with your family – and actually enjoy the meal – keep reading. These strategies for preparing your child with ASD to survive restaurants are for you.
First, consider only family restaurants that are known for quick service. Then, review restaurant menus before choosing one to be sure they serve dishes your child eats. Be sure to make a reservation so you won’t have to wait for a table when you arrive. When you’re getting started, dine before the rush. Service will be faster and the restaurant will be quieter and calmer.
Long before you go, talk to your child with autism about your plan to eat out. Keep the conversation positive and be clear about what the experience will be like. You might want to use a picture schedule to demonstrate all of the steps: arrive, follow the hostess to your table, wait for the menus, and so on. Share all of the details. Your child should know that there will be other people there, that music may be playing, and that there may be wait for the food to arrive after you order.
Create a restaurant experience at home. Set the table with menus. Let your child practice ordering and even waiting for her food to come to the table.
It’s almost time for your visit! Look over the menu with your child and ask her to identify some options she would order. Review what the experience will be like when you go.
Consider visiting the restaurant with your child during off hours or even before they officially open if it’s okay with the manager so your child can see what the environment is like.
Congrats! You’ve made it to restaurant day. By now, your child with ASD is ready and knows what to expect. Try these final tips to make sure the meal is a success.
Avoid snacks immediately before. You want your child to arrive hungry and ready to eat.
Bring favorite activities that will keep your ASD child calm and distracted. It might be nice to offer a special or new activity just for this event.
Request a table in a quiet area like a corner. Ask not to sit near the restrooms, kitchen, and restaurant entrance.
If the restaurant has booths, try to sit in one. They create a more private experience for your family.
At the table, position your child with her back to room to minimize possible distraction.
Request the check when entrees arrive to reduce overall time spent in restaurant
When you follow these tips to prepare your child, practice what the eating in a restaurant will be like, and minimize frustrations during the meal, any restaurant can become an autism friendly restaurant.
If you’re interested in similar tips and my signature coaching program to find the nutrition plan that helps your child with autism thrive, send me an email here.