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

Nancy Price co-founded SheKnows.com in 1999, and now serves as the site's Executive Editor. In the midst of growing several award-winning websites over the past decade, she also served as the editor-in-chief of two national print magazin...

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.

Autistic boy at a restaurant

Problem: A very impatient/restless child with autism

Autistic kids -- like almost all the kids on this planet -- only have so much patience. Sitting and waiting for a table gets boring and frustrating. Your child may want to explore or simply leave -- and will loudly protest being made to sit down until your table is ready. Here are some things you can do:

    1. Avoid restaurants with anything more than a 5-10 minute wait for a table. A good way to manage this feat is to visit restaurants at an off-peak time (such as 4-5 on a weekday afternoon) so you beat the rush.

    1. Since fewer and fewer restaurants are accepting reservations nowadays, find out if the place at least has a "Call ahead" policy. Essentially, you call when you're leaving home, and they put your name on the waiting list -- though this typically only works up to about a half hour in advance. Restaurants that allow call-aheads include Chili's and TGIFridays (in most markets).

    1. Keep things moving. When your server comes to take your drink orders, have your full meal order ready, too. If you're just not quite that ready, do at least mention to the person waiting on your table that you're in a hurry (to speed up service) or explain that your child has autism, and quicker service will help keep the dining experience quieter and less problematic.

    1. Order any of your child's desired refills and second helpings as soon as you realize the need -- don't wait until the cup is empty or the plate is clean. (Sometimes you might want to order two of something in the first place so you can keep the process moving along.)

  1. Once the food is gone, your child will likely want to go home, go to the car -- go anywhere else. So make yourself available to go as soon as you must... just in case. To start, request the check and have the restaurant run your card when the server brings you your main course. (Either at that point or when the meal's actually done, you can leave the cash or sign the credit card receipt. Some people prefer to wait until the last moment before signing and calculating the tip, to ensure that service is good throughout the meal.)


NEXT: Fussy, fussy! When your autistic child won't eat


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