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.
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:
- Plan to visit at a quiet time and ask to be seated away from other tables -- particularly those with parties or groups.
- Try not to sit right by the bathrooms, kitchen or main entryway, as this will mean a constant parade of people by the table.
- Sit in a corner so you only have two walls open to sound.
- 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.
- Ask for high-backed booths when available, instead of tables. (Even regular booths may be preferable)
- 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.
- If your child can tolerate earplugs, always have some handy.
- 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.)
- 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
- 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.)
- 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.
- See the suggestions in the stimulation problem, above.
NEXT: When your autistic child is impatient/restless, and coping with fussy eaters