Eat Out - Even With An Autistic Child

Do you avoid eating out because you have a child with autism, and it's just too stressful to take him to a restaurant? We have some tips to help you avoid some common headaches when dining out at a restaurant with an autistic child.

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Autism in the family - dinnertime!

Problem: 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:

Autism - experience, advice, awareness

    1. Plan to visit at a quiet time and ask to be seated away from other tables -- particularly those with parties or groups.

    1. Try not to sit right by the bathrooms, kitchen or main entryway, as this will mean a constant parade of people by the table.

    1. Sit in a corner so you only have two walls open to sound.

    1. At your table, seat your child where he will be least disturbed: may be with his back to the people milling around, or on the opposite side of the table so he doesn't have to be near the patrons and servers walking by.

    1. Ask for high-backed booths when available, instead of tables. (Even regular booths may be preferable)

    1. Ask your server to please warn you before they sing a rousing rendition of a birthday song for another table, so maybe you can take your child outside for a few minutes.

    1. If your child can tolerate earplugs, always have some handy.

    1. Take your child for a walk outside or go sit in the car if things get too stimulating. (You might want to ask for a table near the door for just this reason.)

  1. Try to keep your child occupied: bring pen and paper, books, or even a "for restaurant-times only" toy.

Problem: Your autistic kid won't stay in his chair

    1. Ask for a booth -- this way, you can block your child's exit. (Do, however, be aware that many restaurants have plants and various types of art on mantels or walls around the booth, and these may present a hazard in and of themselves.)

    1. If you do get seated at a table with 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.

  1. See the suggestions in the stimulation problem, above.

NEXT: When your autistic child is impatient/restless, and coping with fussy eaters

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Comments on "Taking your autistic child to a restaurant: Tips on dining out for families living with autism"

Ashley January 15, 2014 | 9:48 AM

I am a mental health professional and work with children with ASDs. Autistic child is not an appropriate term to use. It's a child with autism. The child has a disorder called autism, the child is not the disorder. Please change your site. Thank you

Carol July 10, 2013 | 12:18 PM

These are some really helpful tips for parents of children with autism because many don't realize what a challenge it can be. I think it's important for the parents and for the children as well to be able to take part in normal activities without being singled out.

Lesley Needham December 27, 2012 | 3:17 PM

I have 4 boys with autism (4, 7, 9, 9) and they are the joy of my life. We eat out once a week. We go to the same venue and sit at the same table each time. The place has a kid's play room so when they are feeling bored they can go play and then come back for their meals. It is one of the highlights of their week and they always ask to go. If I take them anywhere else I just pack ipads and headphones for them so they can watch movies when bored or to block out the noise.

Kate June 17, 2012 | 10:25 PM

What an awful title for this article. "Eat Out - Even With An Autistic Child" is like saying "Eat Out - Even With This Awful Burden". Perhaps something simpler like "Eating Out With An Autistic Child" would suffice and is much less offensive and wouldn't make the child with Autism in my life sound like some horrible thing we have to drag around everywhere and make accommodations for. Think before you publish. WOW.

Della November 24, 2011 | 1:19 AM

I'm not easily impressed. . . but that's ipmerssing me! :)

JDalzell May 11, 2009 | 10:40 AM

My daughter has Pervasive Development Disorder and does not like to eat or sit still. The best way to keep her happy at the table (other than soda) in a restaurant is having her play Nintendo DS/Gameboy. It usually works for about 20 minutes until she is ready to escape from the table and when she can't get away, she starts to scream, hit and throw a tantrum. Although we keep trying to make adjustments, we have never gotten past these episodes. After seven years, I think I am finally ready to admit defeat!

Paul K November 20, 2008 | 12:18 PM

We have a 10 y/o daughter with ASD and eat out with some frequency. We use a lot of the techniques suggested in the article and a couple more. One of our daughter's peculiarities is the need to be first when ordering or serving. Another is when she says something to the wait staff and they don't respond (i.e. busy or don't hear her). This was quite a problem when she was younger (and still is somewhat). She would literally melt down if the waitress didn't acknowledge her saying "thank you" by saying "your welcome". To overcome this, we used a lot of pre-prompting - "what are you going to do if you aren't first" and also Carol Grey's social story format. This worked very well for the "thank you - you're welcome" problem. We've also been lucky in that we live in a city neighborhood with a lot of local family restaurants where we are "regulars". This helps because generally the wait staff know our daughter and her ways so are willing and able to accomodate her. It also helped that we could literally go home for a minute if she needed a break and still finish the meal. This experience has enabled her to deal with most other restaurant situations, like when we are travelling, since eating out is a familiar situation. However, it can still be quite an adventure. My main suggestion is to find a local place and become regulars so both your child and the staff know what to expect.

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