Eating out should always be an escape, an enjoyable, relaxing experience, but when you’re going out to eat with your kids, things don’t always go as planned. If your family has a member on the autism spectrum, these challenges may keep you at home, feeling too overwhelmed to take on the whole endeavor.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, and every family deserves to enjoy a nice outing where you share laughs over delicious food (that you don’t have to cook or clean – bonus!). Here are some tips you can try to embrace going out to eat with the whole family.
Prepare before your outing:
Those with autism thrive on schedules and predictability, so springing a restaurant trip out of the blue may be a trigger for your child. Instead, plan and prepare ahead of time by talking about the plans, going over questions and answers such as:
- Where are you going and why?
- When are you going there? What day, what time, how much longer?
- Who is going with you?
- Has your child been to this restaurant before?
- Will there be a waiting period? If so, where will you wait and how long will that be? What activities can you do while you’re waiting? Are reservations available?
- Review the menu online with your child – what foods sound good to them?
- Is there a special event you’re celebrating?
There are several YouTube videos specifically for children and children with autism role playing different situations like going out to eat. You can watch these videos with your child and practice role playing with your family at home.
Simulate the restaurant experience, including the following: walking in the doors, checking in with the host, waiting, choosing seats, meeting the server, being given a menu, looking at choices and making up your mind, ordering and speaking to the server (or asking mom or dad to help), talking with the guests, etc.
You can also read books or point out on TV shows when families are eating out, talking about their behavior and steps in the whole process.
Create a visual schedule:
To coincide with your planning and preparing ahead phase, you can also create a visual schedule that will remind your child in an easy way the steps in going out to eat. Create the visual supports with your child so he or she is involved in the experience from start to finish. Some steps to consider including:
- Driving or other transportation to the restaurant
- Who will be there with your group
- Waiting to be seated
- Who else will be there at the restaurant (other guests, hostess, servers)
- Menu and ordering food
- Communicating with family while waiting for food
- Table manners
- Paying and leaving the restaurant
You can make this by hand or use an online visual tool kit or organizer to create something on the computer.
With proper planning and practicing, your family can enjoy a nice trip out to a restaurant. Don’t let fear get in the way – the more you try, the more you will learn, and if an obstacle arises, don’t let it throw you off track. Use it as a learning experience for how you can modify your plan and trip for the next time around.
How do you prepare for restaurant outings with your family?