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Dining Out and Autism

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The idea of dining out for a person with autism is often daunting. How do you prepare yourself or your child for going to a restaurant? Can you share some positive/negative dining experiences? What strategies do you employ to ensure the best experience possible for you and your family?

  1. Lena Willis
    May 31, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    My son is 13 now and its easier, especially if we go over menu options ahead of time and make sure his go-to’s are on the menu but he often reminds me of the last time he had a melt down at a pizza place. I realize now that it was too loud, it was a chaotic environment and he couldn’t tell which pizza was ours when they were brought to the table. I have learned from that experience and ask for what we need in advance or do take out.

  2. Kelli Snider
    May 31, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    I take my son with Asperger’s out quite often and it is always a good experience. He looks at the menu and chooses his own food. I do have to give him and his brother reminders atleast once while in the restaurant to settle down and behave accordingly, which they immediately do. I’m very proud to say patrons have actually commemted about how well behaved my children were in the restaurant, which makes me proud and I know I’ve done a good job.

    • June 11, 2011 at 11:41 am

      I know I’ve done a good job. Please acknowledge the effort your children have made. To learn and apply in different situations is very difficult for them. To enlighten the world, we must defer to their abilities, not take credit, as if they were a dog we trained


  3. Norberto Colon
    May 31, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    First of all, I try to avoid places that are very crowded. Then I simply explain that my son is autistic, and I do not wish to disturb the other patrons; could you please put us in a quiet corner? Usually, when we go to a place, there is some section that is closed off. I ask to be seated there. Most of the time they are very nice and compliant. TGI Friday’s is very good with that, as well as Applebee’s and Outback.

    • Kimberly
      June 3, 2011 at 1:11 pm

      Yes, Applebee’s is my son’s favorite restaurant! They are wonderful! But ours doesn’t have a closed off section, so we just try to go during slow hours, haha

  4. May 31, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    I try to talk the whole thing through with our 7-year-old, who has Asperger’s and is able to understand consequences and rewards for his behavior. He is now able to tell us he doesn’t want to go to a restaurant he doesn’t know because it might be too loud, or crowded, so I try to phone ahead to see. But if it’s really going to stress him, we may just drop the idea and order in. We do mostly go to neighborhood places he’s been many times. I have also followed through on warnings; if his behavior becomes inappropriate, I’ll take him outside the restaurant to let him calm down. If that doesn’t work, we leave. Now that he knows I mean it, things have improved.

  5. May 31, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    I wrote about this very topic on my blog just the other day…


    Feel free to share and repost.

  6. Emily Michels
    May 31, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Our son really likes to go out to eat. As long as the restaurant has grilled cheese, french fries and milk, we’re good to go. It’s also easier for us if we get seated in a booth, especially with a window view. That way, he’s “cornered in” and he loves looking out the window. We make sure we have a backpack full of his favorite toys (right now, it’s the Handy Manny tools). I’m very grateful that we are able to do this with him. He frequently asks to go to Applebee’s, Friday’s or Texas Roadhouse! :)

  7. May 31, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    i have two children with autism we took our youngest who is four to a pub resterant it was ok at first untill it come to ordering food she didnt want anything we offerd to her she threw herself around kicking and screaming and at one point banged her head againt the chair when she finally calmed after that episode she got quite impatient for her food when it finally came she refused to eat it i noticed some people were staring and talking about us at first it did used to bother us but now its part of normal life and we pretend we are the only ones there we dont go out alot because of the stress of it all and we know when we at home she is in a routine and does better in the home enviroment sometimes its easier too.

  8. Edward F Hanrahan
    May 31, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    I have a form of Autism I used to get periods of extreme panic where I felt as though everyone was watching me. It is a very hard and claustrophobic feeling and the best way to stop this is to practice controlled breathing techniques and also recieve re-assurance from your friends.

  9. shirley morgan
    May 31, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    hi our son will be 3 in july,were only at the beginning of our journey our son was just recently diagnosed.As of now we dont have a problem dining out with him as long as there is no waiting time….as in it has to be a fast food place where the food comes straight away or a buffet place,once the food is on the table all is good.But if there is waiting time,were in a melt down,screaming,crying totally uncontrollable & with that i dont know if its because he doesnt like waiting or maybe as i see in the above post chaotic enviroment or noise….Our son at the moment is non verbal,so im unaware what he makes of the whole experience…….but im sure in time we will learn.

    • cassandra
      May 31, 2011 at 4:42 pm

      my son used to be the same way he was diagnosed around the same age as your little guy…Its not the waiting that he doesnt like its the strange environment, noise, people he doesnt know, smells that kind of thing relaxing environments are more relaxing for everyone and he is associating the food immediately thing with eating if he is at a table to eat there should be food there right? so he sees and empty table and knows there is something missing and it makes him uncomfortable…i used to bring little crackers and a small toddler bowl for restaurants when we were waiting for our food it seemed to help i hope this helps you somewhat….just take this one day at a time its a long road but everything will be ok hang in there you will learn some pretty cool tricks along the way

      • shirley morgan
        May 31, 2011 at 5:57 pm

        thankyou Cassandra for youre reply,yes i so totally get what you mean about ‘sitting up at a table & there should be food there’ cos at home,i only put my son Kyle up to the table when the food is there waiting for him,so obviously that is what he has come accustomed to so it makes sense for him to become agitatated & sense something is wrong/not right when hes put at a table & what he expects (dont know if thats the correct word) honestly dont know why i didnt put that together on my own,but sometimes you need someone from outside the box,to let you understand……….i know i have a lot of learning & understanding to do yet & some tricks to learn,so once again,thankyou

    • Valada Clay
      May 31, 2011 at 10:37 pm

      Our son is also turning 3 in July and was recently diagnosed. We found that any waiting over 15 minutes can usually be a loss. We bring some of his favorite toys (luckily they’re small cars) and some little snacks to help ease the wait. We generally try to order his food with the drinks and tell them we would like his as soon as possible. Most places have been nice enough to comply without any question. My son is just now becoming more verbal with feelings (scared, too loud, etc.) but we noticed that the more people there are the more uncontrollable he becomes. Most of this was before he was diagnosed and we were in the not understanding why phase. Since he was diagnosed we just try to essentially keep him busy in “our little world” in wherever we are and use the same techniques of toys and snacks. It works fine for at least 45 minutes.

  10. Florence
    May 31, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    My 4 yr old son has aspergers and I have a 2 yr old, so going out is a challenge but we do it. We go during off peak times so restaurant is not as crowded leading to sensory overload. I also do not stress if the kids don’t eat, and just take it get a to go box. My son will then usually eat the rest of his food on the way home. My husband and i also allow Justin to pick the restaurant from a couple of his favorites(cracker barrel and logans) because he’s more apt to eat and behave if he helped make the decision. Lastly I always make sure we have a favorite item to provide a distraction and comfort.

  11. Dan
    May 31, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    When we take our daughter with autism and is non-verbal, will be 7 in a couple weeks out to a restaurant. we have to make sure that we get a booth and and that if there is any waiting to get that booth one of us will have to wait with her somewhere else (like the car). Then once we are able to be seated she just needs her iPod touch or iPad to keep her focused on something. Because generally there are way too many things going on in any restaurant. But once she is seated she does very good and is generally well behaved.

  12. M Garcia
    May 31, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Dining out is something we do very seldom…our son is sixteen but has very little patience. An outdoor venue is always more fun for him (doesn’t feel as crowded)…

  13. Elizabeth Braun
    May 31, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    My daughter is five and we eat out a fair bit. I try to eat at family-friendly restaurants or fast food. I go over what the choices are before we get to the restaurant. I also always pack things for her to do while we wait. The crayons and colourign sheet they give at the restaurant is usually not enough.

  14. suzanne
    May 31, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    My son is 16 and has PDD-NOS. We have always taken him and his 14 year old brother (who has ADHD) out to restaurants with few problems. Major chains have their menus on their websites, which helps to plan ahead. We no longer have any problems with ordering – he does his own but we try to approve what he wants before the waiter comes to take the order, mostly from a health standpoint! He is adventurous with food. He has eaten in restaurants with school friends and we always go over the tipping procedure ahead of time.

  15. Karla Fisher
    May 31, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    As an autistic adult (raising and mentoring ASD kids), I cannot stress enough about the environment of the place we go to. I have a very hard time (even at 47 years of age) in most public eating places and have developed a keen eye for those quiet yet still yummy public places over the years. Places like “Chucky Cheese…” are ridiculous for most ASD kids and should be avoided at all costs IMHO. Another horrible place is one called Red Robin (in the PNW) where the ambient room noise is often over 80db. One thing parents can do that would be exceedingly helpful for their kids is to download a DB Meter for their smart phones. I have found that it is pretty consistent that any room with an ambient noise level about 75 db is NOT a great place for most ASD people. Once that is eliminated the whole “picking out food” and other stuff can be so daunting…

    • Karla Fisher
      May 31, 2011 at 2:28 pm

      Hmmm… seems I posted too soon…

      Once the environment factor (noise, activities, etc) is eliminated then the other daunting tasks such as picking out food, etc… is less daunting…

  16. May 31, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Eating out always requires lots of advance notice. We stick with a small handful of places that don’t mind accommodating his needs….whether is turning the radio down, letting us have a secluded booth, etc. We’ve also found that sitting at booths with windows looking out helps!

  17. Thomas Maguire
    May 31, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    The very same fine dining establishments that took my money when I was dating seat and serve my 16 year old son Thomas. If you don’t expose children to restaurants other than McDonald’s, they will always behave like they are at McDonald’s.

    That is not to say there are not embarrassing moments but they come with the territory. Insuring a smooth flow is essential to success. Someone in the party inquiring as to how this is made and where that was caught, asking for the specials to be repeated etc, is not a good idea.

    A relationship with the wait staff really helps. At my son’s favorite places, they know what he wants walking through the door. He is served promptly, with personalized attention and like anyone else, responds positively.

    As a parent, I have to watch what and how he eats and if necessary calm and redirect him. I cannot have coarse words at the table with others and have to pay attention. If a situation gets out of hand, getting up and leaving promptly is not only fair to other diners but reinforces the cost of bad behavior.

    Don’t leave your autistic kids out of the better things in life. Everyone else will get over it!

  18. Karla Fisher
    May 31, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Another “hint” for those of you with Teens on the spectrum. I use “dining out” as a tool for teaching my kiddos to advocate. Since mostly I and they want something customized from the regular menu, this teaches them that it is okay to ask for special stuff and how to do it politely as well as pay for it. I make my teens figure out tips at the end of the meals. :) Good stuff all around.

  19. Mike Kane
    May 31, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Hello to All,

    New to this space but excited to get started. We take our son Jack (11 years old) to virtually any style restaurant but there are caveats. We know in advance (as others here have mentioned) what’s on the menu and what Jack can/will have. He is on a gf/cf diet and so often times, if it’s pizza, we will go to Beau Jo’s (it’s a chain in a number of states), which has a gluten free pizza, it’s awesome and he is absolutely in heaven. Other favs for Jack are The Outback (great gf menu) and loud enough but not too loud, to have a great family lunch/dinner together and they have restaurants all over; any restaurant that serves steak or ribs is also on our radar. The last thing we do to help Jack enjoy the experience is to bring his iPod (very calming) and some of his favorite snack foods (oranges, popcorn or chips) and a pad of paper with ink pen to write/draw/scribble.

    Thanks for creating a forum for voices. This dad is needing that, big time!

  20. Renie
    May 31, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    My son is only 8 so it’s easiest for me to choose what he is going to eat. If we get lucky enough to find a buffet, I let him choose. Most of our dining out experiences don’t go too bad. We have had occasions though where I have had to take him outside or he eats so much he throws up at the table… Always a mood killer :(

  21. Gail
    May 31, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    My daughter is almost 7 years old and has aspergers. We just came from the Chinese Buffet for an early dinner. She did pretty well, considering. We always sit by the window in a spot that is not crowded. The window gives her something to focus on other than the people. We usually eat at buffets and places she is familiar with. We do call ahead to see if it is crowded. We bring a few sensory things for her like her wrist pulls, chewies, sometimes her wedge to sit on and a few other things to help her. We do not sit near the food, due to smells. If she is having a bad day from the start we choose another day.

    • shirley morgan
      May 31, 2011 at 6:36 pm

      im learning so much from this blog,our son will be 3 in july,just recently diagnosed with asd………..we more or less got the diagnosis & sent home,not really knowing what to do……….but in one of his accessments chewies were mentioned……my son licks everything,or else he his chewing on his seater,the part at his wrist,is their somewhere on line i can obtain these from??? i apolize if i seem lost or over eager,but im trying to do the best i can for my son,were in Ireland,you get a diagnosis & then have to wait months & months for services & help to understand.

      • myrna
        June 3, 2011 at 11:50 pm

        I have a nonverbal 2 year old Giovanni with ppd-nos any help or suggestions? I have relied on the internet for information. I have to say go with your instincts its a long road but intervention and therapies work. There are great websites out there for sensy. I have started the brushing protacal and bought my son a chewing tube.

      • Amanda Jean Wright
        June 10, 2011 at 3:43 pm

        Hi Shirley,
        My son Mason is 9 and he loves to chew on things too. He doesn’t really like the therapy tubes found from various websites, but he does like oxygen tubing. My husband buys this online, I’m not sure where. If your interested, let me know and I can ask him for you. We buy a big bundle, and he cuts long strips and then makes a loop and ties a knot. Mason stays busy trying to get the knot undone and then chewing on the tube. It helps when he is stressed out. The deep pressure from bitting the tubing helps his sensory overload decrease. I hope this helps.
        Amanda Wright

  22. melinda
    May 31, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    To all of you new to dining out with autistic children please note that it gets better with practice. If you are unfortunate enough to go to a place with sensory overload, the experience will prevent you from going to that place again. My soon to be 5 grand-daughter does well in familiar places and if she’s having a good day, unfamiliar places. She loves a local Chinese buffet, not the best food in the world, but because of that it’s never crowded and the music and lights are low. She can see the entire restaurant from any table, so she doesn’t stress if I go to get refills. She does ok in restaurants with table service, but it’s best to ask for crackers or a dinner roll when ordering drinks. Waiting for food is not one of her strong points. Avoid Friday night and Sunday brunch, way too busy most places. Ask for an out of the way table to avoid collisions with the wait staff. Forget after dinner chit-chat, save it for a sans children time. By all means, do dine out, it’s part of modern life and we want our children to participate as fully as possible in life.

  23. Joe Longo
    May 31, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    Our three year old look has autism. I am a professional chef , so eating out is very important part of our lives, I want all my 4 kids to love dining and food as much as I do. That being said, Luke is a picky eater, we go to small family places or small ethnic restaurants . The smaller places are more willing to accommodate . The chains also have terrible food so it is cool to discover so many great little “joints”. My boy loves his iPod touch. That usually does the trick. The smaller places don’t mind if we bring our own food for Luke. Tipping is the key people! Luke will do whatever we do!

  24. elise baucum
    May 31, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    my daughter brianna makes alot of
    noise older people stare we are
    working on manners. She is 10.

  25. elise baucum
    May 31, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    my daughter is loud people stare it is all right if you
    you go places she wants to go to ,to eat she sometimes will cause a scene.

  26. May 31, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    I’m actually going to address two things…the first is our parenting guideline for taking our children to restaurants in general (the result of many years spent working in fine dining restaurants): if they do not have a children’s menu and our child acts out, we respect the experience of the other diners by not allowing our children to disrupt them if they are loud, melting down, etc. If they have a children’s menu, the restaurant is intended for families and there should be a reasonable level of tolerance for at least some “normal” kid chaos.

    As far as dining out with our 8 y/o with ASD, the first key is not to push him…something that happens almost without exception as it gets later in the evening. Our son has a serious sensory processing issues and, as a result, does not feel hunger, but he does get testy when his body wants food (he just does not connect this with eating). If we take him with us, we make sure they serve something he likes and we put his order in as soon as we are seated. We also ask that they bring it out when it is ready. It is the downtime that gets to him…waiting for food and having nothing to distract him. We take a mini whiteboard and markers as well as whatever object is his interest of the moment, but the best distraction for him is the food itself. Finally, we kind of gear him up for dining out ahead of time. He also gets to take his turn choosing the restaurant (as do his brother and sister).

    Probably the most important thing we have learned about his eating habits both at home and in public is that if he decides ahead of time what he is going to order, he is more inclined to eat it – so we often discuss what he will order on the way to the restaurant (we also let him order himself).

  27. May 31, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    green vegetable enhance the beauty of dining room.

  28. Brenda
    May 31, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    I have a 14 year old with aspergers who made plans to take his girlfriend to Homecoming to include a dinner date. After thinking through all the times I’d “helped” him read through the menu, order, etc the thought of him doing all that on his own without my help made me cringe! I took him out a couple times and let him be in charge of ordering, paying and leaving the tip. After a few practice dinners with mom he was ready to go on his date – and it was a complete success. They even stayed through the entire Homecoming dance. My lesson learned is that by letting go and helping less…I’m actually helping more.

    • Mariam
      June 6, 2011 at 4:21 pm

      I know I’ll someday see this day in the near future, my son is 14 & also has Asperger’s. He’s definetly interested in girls, his hormones are going “nuts”!!! The practice runs seem to be a good thing, because it’ll prepare him on everything & help him get used to doing it by himself, which is a BIG thing, doing it him self without clamming up & getting too anxious that he can’t cope & has to escape the whole situation.

  29. Tammy
    May 31, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    Our almost 9 year old Aspergers son NOW enjoys restaurants, and asks to go out. At first, he would only want to go to
    A handful of places all with none to minmal wait. With persistence and a few episodes of pullingout our hair, we kept trying new places and continue to do so. It was also important for us to bring things for him to do. We now expect him to spend some time talking with us. It is possible to change the behavior- although it can be stress fil to get there, i really appreciate not having to eat at mcdonalds all the time!

  30. June 1, 2011 at 7:55 am

    I usually bring something to keep him busy. His DSI or some kind of electronic. sometimes he plays games on my iphone or on my husbands ipod. that helps with the time waiting for the food to come.

  31. MummAutism
    June 1, 2011 at 9:27 am

    Breakfast for lunch, dinner or… Breakfast! Easiest meal for our son to order GFCF. “2 eggs scrambled, no milk, no toast, side order of bacon, side order of fries, PLEASE!” We let him order himself, even if the waitstaff knows what he wants. There are several chains that serve breakfast all day. He just enjoys going out so we don’t focus so much on it being a “fancy” place. He can learn etiquette in any dining place. We save the more upscale places for date night. He is trying new things like fish, and he likes brown rice and corn. We just need to make sure thar these items can be prepared GFCF. It gets easier w/practice – just like anything else. Good luck!

  32. Danielle
    June 1, 2011 at 11:32 am

    I would love feed back about this.. because if I bring crayons or something for my son to do, all he wants to do is play with the salt and pepper and sugar and if I tell him no, he screams on the top of his lungs and the entire restaurant stares at us.. I’m getting used to this, but there has to be a better way..

    • jackie
      June 3, 2011 at 1:36 pm

      Your son sounds like mine. My son is 9 and crayons no longer interest him. He likes to do concrete things to keep his hands busy. We often bring his DSi to the table at a restaurant. Some restaurants have little jellies that are sitting at the table such as Bob Evans. We use these as blocks to make towers, pyramids and to have practice counting. The waitresses will bring more upon request. They are very helpful. Also cracker barrel has checkers and the triangle peg board games to keep things interesting. Perhaps you could get a small lego kit of 25 pieces or more and build it with him at the table. Keeping him hands busy helps to avoid a fit! Good Luck!!

  33. June 1, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    My son with Asperger Syndrome is 18 in a few days. He was diagnosed at 3. He had tremendous sensory processing problems, and for a long time, we could not go out to eat at all. At about 5, he was having a very good Sunday afternoon. We went to a family restaurant (Eat & Park for those in or near Pittsburgh, PA). It was quiet, and there was no wait. He had a visual menu and circled his choices – cereal, milk, and French Fries. At the end of the meal, he had a sugar cookie with icing on it (their tradition). It was a great success. We went to Eat and Park regularly after that. One day we passed a Ground Round, and he said “we haven’t been there for a long time. We should go”. Well, we dropped everything and went. Another success! We slowly built up his tolerance for more (and louder) places. Now, he can go almost anywhere as long as they have French fries, fish and chips, or chicken fingers. With my son, it was always about slowly getting him accustomed to new things. Read more about my family’s journey about our 18 year journey on my blog at autismwhisperer.net

  34. Jane March
    June 1, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    I give my son a stress ball to bring into the restaurant. My son likes the large pom poms found in craft stores. We ask for seating away from the crowd. We will order an appetizer so he does not have a long wait to eat. Now we are finally able to enjoy a dinner that is not a buffet.

  35. Vickie Cornett
    June 3, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    This is one I’ve usually not had a problem with the resturants here have been very good we’ve gone to the more expensive ones and I just carry a larger purse to hide the McDonalds bag and they bring me a plate. The one time I had a problem a lady from another table who was with a Historical tour and a special education teacher from NC, calmed him down and we got him away from everyone else.

  36. June 3, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    I remember one time, back in the first few years of my nephew’s life with autism we went to a restaurant a very “family-friendly” place. This would have been 2004 or so, which was a completely different level of awareness and consciousness about ASD. My nephew was having a hard time, and my sister kept getting judgemental looks and huffs and puffs from a couple at a nearby table. Finally, they said rudely: “Can’t you control your child???”
    My sister stopped what she was doing, stood up and said:
    “My son has autism. We are trying to help him modify his behavior. What do you have to say about YOURS?”

  37. Margaret
    June 3, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    I take a group of children on the spectrum every Saturday to our local Swiss Chalet that has healthy gluten free foods (for those with sensitivities) We have been going there every Saturday for about 6 years. The children range from non-verbal to HF. Sometimes we are there for up to 1.5 hours when the restaurant is busy.
    Now for the most part all the children are quite well behaved. It was not always so. It has taken practice and I have always had high expectations for their behaviour.
    Things I keep on hand to avoid meltdowns.
    1. Bag of snack foods: carrots etc.
    2. Fidget toys.
    3. Visual cue cards.

    The restaurant always has crayons and the cute menus to colour on which most of the children do so when we first arrive.
    They all order their own food and speak to the waiter or waitress themselves. I made up my own menu using Boardmaker but now they know how to use the restaurant menu.
    I encourage and promote this activity as a time to practice conversation skills. With the children talking to each other about their week as none go to the same school. Most days there are 6-8 in attendance with 2-3 adults. We all sit at the same table and honestly I have a ball with this group. Like anything else it is about practice and now my kids are seasoned restaurant goers and the experience is most always nothing but positive!

  38. Barbara
    June 3, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    My son is 9. He has Asperger’s and ADHD as well as multiple food allergies. We take him out to dinner quite often and it is a good experience now. He knows what his allergies are to and I speak to the waitstaff about what he is able to eat…. hamburgers, sometimes plain pasta, simple foods. My son usually orders for himself once we decide what he can eat. We generally order a side of something, fries or a salad usually, so he can get started right away. Restaurant choice is important, it cannot be too noisy. Crowds are generally ok but noise is NOT. We usually go out on weeknights, it isn’t as busy so the staff can accomodate our needs. My son knows what acceptable behavior is in a restaurant, he places his napkin on his lap and is now able to cut most of his own food. Dining is a social experience and the more he sees others enjoying being social he has positive models.

  39. Tonya
    June 3, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    For the longest time, taking Cannon out to eat was something that was just NOT going to happen. We wouldn’t know what would trigger him into a meltdown. For us, going out to eat, meant getting burgers and nuggets at the drive through and eating in a park where it is ok to kick and yell and scream to our heart’s content. Part of his treatment and therapy is immersing him into situations that he might not always like, but are socially essential for him to have experiences with, such as eating at a restaurant with the family. We have a plan formulated for every restaurant we can go to, and most of those plans are similar, but have a few variations. First on our plan is to tell the hostess that we need a large booth, close to the door (large because we are a family of 6 and need room to spread out, close to the door in case we need to “escape”). We take plenty of “distractions” (books, stuffed animals, toy cars, crayons, etc). We order the kids’ food as soon as our server gets to us, so that way they do not have to wait. We inform the server, the hostess, and those around us that we are family dealing with ASD and we apologize in advance for any inconveniences or disturbances we invoke. If it happens to be a restaurant where we know flat out that Cannon will not eat anything (such as HuHot) we have a few snackies for him, but also promise him that as long as he sits nicely with the family, as soon as we are done, we will take him to his restaurant and get him a burger or some nuggets. The important thing is that we expose him to these social situations so that way when he is older and hopefully on his own, he will be able to go out to eat with his companions or with us again.

  40. Aprilyn
    June 3, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    I just don’t take my son out to eat anymore. He is 6 now, and has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. If we go out, he can’t /won’t sit down. He always hates the food, even if it is something he usually likes, and he keeps trying to talk to the waitresses when they are busy with other customers. He will talk very loud, and has to keep saying what he’s saying until someone acknowledges him. About the time we’re frazzled, he has to go to the bathroom. So Dad takes him to the bathroom where he strips completely naked to go. Then he talks LOUDLY about pooping or something, andit takes him forever to go. It is never pleasant!

  41. nicki
    June 3, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    i have 2 autistic children, 3yrs and 5 yrs, and we have never tried to take them into a restaurant yet. We have tried in a small cafe but my 3 yr old runs under tables and runs if i try to go near him so i can seat him. We try coaxing him, talking to him but due to his lack of verbal communication and a low level of understanding, we have ended up catching him and he immediately goes into meltdown, kicking screaming, throwing himself backwards and biting me. I basically ignore this mood and strap him in his buggy and he just continues to create bigtime,so we have to leave. We had this exact issue when my 5yr old was his age but since starting school she has calmed alot and likes to copy others. So we stay home always……..for now

  42. Liz
    June 3, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    My 8 year old son with Asperger’s loves his DSI, and pretty much only gets to play with it in restaurants, on long lines, and on long car trips. Our rule in the restaurant is that he can play until dinner is on the table, then it goes away until he has eaten. He gets it back after his meal, and he is so happy with it that my husband and I get to linger over coffee. (We could never do that before the DSI!)

  43. Jennifer
    June 3, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    SHOCK & AWE!!!!! I started taking my stepson’s, Joey, 12 (Aspergers), Alex 8 (Autism/MR) and Jacob 5 (ADHD) to breakfast at Burger King. I had told them for several days what the expectations were and the consequences if they did not behave correctly. They never went to any restuaunts with any of their relatives because “they are just terrible.” So off we went to BK for breakfast on a Saturday morning. While I was ordering the boys all took to jumping around, screaming and fighting about which booth we should sit at and sliding on the benches while throwing the salt & pepper shakers. I allowed the behavior, the lady behind the counter thought I was a nut. She finally gave me one last dirty look and the food.

    With tray in hand I got the boys attention, and they watched as I threw the entire breakfast tray in the trash. Shock & Awe. We went home and had Cheerios. This happened twice, and we left before ordering twice (thankfully, it was getting pricey and I hated throwing the food away).

    Then one day SUCCESS! They sat there like three little lambs, waiting for their french toast sticks and tater tots.

    Since then we have only had to leave a restuarunt once or twice due to behavior, but for the most part the boys behave so nice! I swear the Shock & Awe worked for us! Just be sure to set your expectations before you try this… It can’t be a punishment, it has to be a direct and immediate consequence to their behavior.

  44. Desie
    June 3, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    My 9 year old son who has Autism, ADHD, and Bi Polor used to be quite the handfull at restraunts. I have noticed that he had days where he likes things noisey and busy and days where every little noise tends to bug him. So when we do go out to eat, which is not very often we try to pick according to his mood for the day. Also, I have learned that if I am able to keep them occupied after ordering that really helps. All 3 of my kids will take their DS’s with them, I also keep small cards and small UNO cards in my purse as well for just in case.

  45. Katie Lidgett
    June 3, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    We don’t go to a restaurant unless we know some of the things my 5 year old will eat are on the menu. (She has PDD-NOS.) Wait staff are usually pretty accommodating if you ask. A quiet corner is good not only for the noise level, but also for walking around without disturbing other tables. We had an awesome waitress last week that went and got us a second straw that was the “right” color. Another thing that works for us is to have three restaurants we’d like to go to, and letting my daughter choose from that list.

  46. Tracy
    June 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    My 12 year old is a high functioning autistic and he has sensory integration disorder, he`s very sensitive to noise, such as people chewing…we have found that when we all start to eat, if he has head phones on this works very well to “drown out” the chewing noises which drive him batty. He has gotten to the point that he doesn`t always need headphones but he`ll compensate and lean an ear over onto his shoulder. We do alot of making our expectations of him crystal clear so if he acts up, he knows he`s receiving the consequence because HE chose it.

  47. valerie
    June 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    I prepare my 10 yrold son by letting him know the name of the resturant, he will vision it and if its a usually great, but new places “yuck”.
    My son always, no matter what i do,has to use the restroom everytime we dine, and its not num 1. So after oh id say 4 yrs i finally bring a mini lysol. When he was younger i got stares about taking him to the ladies room.still get whispers about why my child is “making noises”. Or why he cant stay still, and picks layerz off his food peiece by peice. Its hard it sucks sometimes its unecessary and ignorant. But he is mine:)

  48. Mary
    June 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    I have an adult son, who we took out to dinner from birth. One of the things that would help, was having something small for him to eat while he waited for the food, so chips and salsa, bread, crackers, these were all things that satisfied him till his food arrived. He had his share of melt-downs, but learned that it wasn’t fun to be pulled away from the food. We seemed to avoid the loud noisy pizza places and stuck more with the family sit-down restaurants. These places tend to have coloring menus, which also kept him occupied.

  49. Jocelyn
    June 3, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    My little boy does really well in the “dining out” setting! We get some looks from time to time when I am convincing him that the “new” food isn’t bad! It takes me feeding my 5 year old a bite or two before he is okay! I love my special boy! His big brother and sister will even help out and try his food and tell him how good it is! LOL! All in all we have good dining out experiences. ( but we also dine at NON peak hours too!)

  50. Dennis Reed
    June 3, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    I have always taken my Oldest out with me. I found the more often he is out the more Comfortable He is in Public. The only hard part is that he is now 15 and stands 6’3″ so I have to keep on my toes with him. He Love’s going to Classic Car and Motorcycle Shows.

  51. Bill
    June 4, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    My Son with autism is 10 and most of the time loves to a “restaurant” His favorites are carls Jr and Red Robin for cheese burgers. Finding places with gluten free menus are becoming easier to find as well.

    He will at times have issues with noise levels or he may not like our server for whatever reason and can show his displeasure by slapping his leg and yelling “no Wal Mart for you” (in his mind not going to Wal Mart is the worst thing ever.)
    He calms down when his cheese burger and chocolate milk arrive.
    The things we have done is practiced ahead of time when he was younger and started out with places like McDonalds and other fast food places before making the jump to the high end Red Robin (note sarcasm.) This does gives us an opportunity to go out somewhere as a family.

  52. Leslie
    June 5, 2011 at 12:40 am

    My son is on the spectrum and he usually does pretty well when we take his DS into the restaurant to keep him busy and help him tune out the stimuli. His favorite place to eat is Cracker Barrel, where he can eat breakfast anytime. We have had issues in the past and still do on occasion, but he just turned 10 and it gets easier with time. Hang In…

  53. Debby
    June 5, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Like many of you, our dining out requires advanced planning for my 11 year old son with Asperger’s. He is on a gluten-free diet, so we typically call ahead to verify that the restaurant has a gluten-free menu or can reasonably accommodate changes. We also go early so the sensory overload issue doesn’t impact us too much. My son always brings along his ‘bag’ of things to do – paper, pencils, and a book from which to drawn. As long as we’ve prepared him well, our experiences are usually pretty positive. Not always, but usually.

  54. Rosemary Galbraith
    June 10, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    When dining out we’d give or son transition time to know, where we’re going to eat as well as who he will be sitting with. If we didn’t give him this transition time to process, we’d be physically carrying him inside kicking and screaming. Not a pretty sight, and can make our meal that much more unpleasant. Thank God he’s grown out of this.

  55. Kristina Mermelstein
    June 10, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    Although going to a reatuarant used to be a daunting experience for me and my husband, I urge all of you to check out this app called “Going Places.” The app is free and we’ve been using it and the other examples they have to offer to help show my moderatley functioning autistic son what the expected bx is supposed to be. It shows an actial child and not an animation to help make the “story” real.
    There are other great examples to choose from as well such as shopping at the mall, getting a hair cut and the playground. These are perfect teachable moments we all look for and it’s something you can share with your therapy team to check ot and use as well. Keep up the great work. You are your child’s best teacher!

    :) An inspired Mom in Palos Verdes Estates, California

  56. June 14, 2011 at 9:24 am

    This is a very nice thread. For several years, we had to do a lot of prep. Then, we had our ABA provider write programs for dining out and we worked our programs until my son got to the point where he could dine out without being over-stimulated. Today, we basically work on his manners and table etiquette, which can completely go out the window unless we reign it all in.

    Thanks for all of the great tips here. I wrote a few of my own, but nothing beats just getting your child out there into society and trying.

    My Tips on Dining Out


    God Bless!

  57. Karin Leaver
    June 16, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    My 5 year old only likes to go to a small handful of places, but for those occasions when he screams or acts up/out in other ways (like having a fit when the wait staff puts ice cubes in his drink, or makes the mistake of mixing yellow and blue tortilla chips on the same plate), I have business cards that say “I’m sorry if my child’s behavior is disturbing you . . .” and gives more information about autism. I have left them on other diner’s tables (if they have been staring or offering such valuable advice as “Someone needs a nap!”), or just include it with my credit card when it comes time to pay the bill. I have had very many positive remarks from waitstaff, and I think it really helps to spread awareness of the fact that what ight appear as rude behavior, is in fact our children’s only way of dealing with the world.

  58. June 20, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Dining out provides a fabulous opportunity to learn social and communication skills. A little time spent planning ahead can make big changes in a student’s behavior and his ability to participate. Choose from these twelve ideas to create positive dining experiences.

    1. Collect photos or logos of your favorite restaurants
    Make a little book of favorite places to eat. This will be a fabulous tool to talk about where you are going.

    2. Ask restaurants for a menu to take home
    Look at the menu to choose what you want to order before you go out. Preparing ahead helps students anticipate and rehearse the event. Practice ordering so they will be ready when it is their turn. (I find restaurants are very gracious about sharing their menus when I tell them why I want one.)

    3. Write a little story about where you will go and what will happen
    Taking a few moments to do this before you go out will prepare the student for what will happen. Tell them what to expect when they go.

    4. Make a mini-schedule of your outing
    Go in car, stand in line, sit down, order, wait, eat, pay the bill.

    5. Visually tell the child where you will go after eating
    You can put that information in the mini-schedule. Knowing what comes next can help students handle what is happening now.

    6. Create some visual rules for going out to eat
    Stay in your seat, keep your food on your plate, use a quiet voice, etc. Not too many rules. Just pick a couple of important ones to work on.

    7. Bring something to do if you have to wait
    Make sure that you bring something appropriate for the environment you will be in. Sometimes giving the student more than one choice works best. Of course, the choices are visual!

    8. Bring a watch or timer
    Measure time waiting for food or time in the restaurant.

    9. Bring home a visual memory
    A napkin, placemat, brochure, sales slip, etc. can promote conversation after going out. Put it in a little notebook book.

    10. Bring a camera
    Take a photo of something to remember. Try a photo of the food or someone sitting at the table. Perhaps the front of the restaurant or something interesting inside like a fish tank or play equipment will be memorable.

    11.Write a story
    Write about where you went and what you did. Reviewing after an event is a great way to build communication skills. You can do this for students who are verbal. But it can also be effective for students who do not talk. Just make it simple.

    12. Put your visual memory, picture and/or story in your little notebook
    Use that information to review the next time you go out to eat.

  59. Courtney Gonzalez
    July 4, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    My little boy Evan is 3 he will turn 4 in september .we got his diagnosis about 5 months ago . We have all together avoided eating out with him at all . He can not sit still for to long and doesn’t underhand yet that he has to wait for them to make the food.so we always bring the food home where he’s comfortable. He is non verbal still so its not known if he really understand what we are telling him.but I must say we are starting small with him by taking him to the dollar store or so stores where we are in and out so he gets the exposure but its not to much at once. He’s on the mild side of the spectrum. He is the greatest blessing we have ever been giving. I just want to know any suggestions for the newbies parents and the younger kids like my son because we are still learning ourselves.

  60. July 26, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    It’s taken time for us to go out to eat with our son. I recently wrote a post about this topic on my blogsite – AutismWonderland


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