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Going Out to Eat with a Child who has Autism: Preparation

Few parents would argue that taking your child out to eat can be a challenging experience. When your child has autism that challenge is often magnified tenfold, the dirty looks from other patrons, the misinterpretation of behaviors, snide remarks about how you should better “control” your child.

It would be great if other people would demonstrate kindness and understanding. The fact is that you can’t control the reactions of others. That doesn’t mean you can’t take your child out to eat. Here are a few tips that you can use to make eating out a more enjoyable experience for your child and your family.

Things to Do Before Eating Out

Unfamiliar routines can often lead to unwanted behaviors; the best way to overcome this is to prepare your child ahead of time. This will help reduce anxiety and allow your child to know what to expect. Here are a few questions to consider to help you plan:

  1. Where will you be going?
  2. Is the environment over stimulating?
  3. Has your child been there before?
  4. How long will you have to wait for a table?
  5. What time of day are you going?
  6. Does the restaurant take reservations?
  7. What type of food do they serve? Do they serve your child’s favorite?
  8. Is there a printable menu?

You can do a practice run at home. You can show your child what it is like to look at a menu, order, color or take part in another quiet pastime while waiting for food, and remind him/her that it is important to stay in their seat.

You can also pick a restaurant to use as a “dry run” for the big event. A kid friendly environment, such as Chick-fil-a or a Denny’s type place, where they can get a menu, have to remain seated, but a more family friendly environment ideally go at a slow time during the day. You can even go just for dessert or an appetizer; it doesn’t have to be an entire meal.

When you feel as though you and your child are ready for the dining out adventure here are a few more suggestions to keep in mind.

  • If your child needs to time to get ready mentally, let him/her know the plans as soon as you set them
  • Bring food from home if needed, as well as favorite toys, books or games
  • Have your son/daughter use the restroom prior to leaving to try to avoid the public restroom
  • Think about letting the hostess and/or server know about your child’s special needs to circumvent any possible issues, you can request speedy service or explain why your child may be ignoring questions
  • Stay by your child’s side at every moment, and do your best to not get caught up in amazing conversation or that tasty appetizer that you forget to pay attention to your child.
  • Request your child’s drink be served in a kiddie cup, it’s better to be safe than sorry
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