Going to a restaurant can be relaxing for adults, but a little funkier for children. Outside of their comfort zone of the home, children can freeze up around waiters and get upset when chicken fingers aren’t on the menu. But, as the holidays approach, you and your family may find yourselves out for meals more often, which can be an exciting opportunity for your child with special needs.
To best prepare for a night out, The Deron School has prepared a list of tips and how-to’s so that you and your family will enjoy a meal out and have a smooth, fulfilling dining experience. Dig in!
Practice at Home
Adults can easily take for granted the fact that, for many children, going out for a meal can be a startling and new experience. Many parents will order for their child, but as they mature it is best to give them some autonomy and responsibility by letting them order for themselves. Practice with simple role playing at home: as the parent, play the waiter, and tell your child you are going to come up to them as a server will. Start simple, and ask what juice or drink they’d prefer. Have them respond using their good manners. Then, say coming right up!
Look at the Menu in Advance
One major concern parents and children with special needs may have is finding something agreeable to eat at the restaurant. Fortunately, the internet makes it easy to find menus online. Take the time to look at it with your child before heading to the restaurant, and have them practice ordering. If they prefer something not on the menu, call ahead of time to see if they can prepare it so there are no surprises when you get there.
Recognize Eating Habits Vary
Some children will eat too loudly, and some will make a mess while chewing — AutismGuide.co humbles and reminds us that many people with special needs find dining with others to be daunting. And that’s okay: they may try to conform their habits, but other times they will want to eat how they feel most comfortable. Do not lose patience too easily; recognize your child is trying their best and may need to act independently. Over time, habits, or understandings of them, will shift, improve, and adapt.
Make a Reservation
Avoid coping with your child on an empty stomach by making a reservation in advance. This will similarly help in terms of getting your child acclimated more quickly: by sitting down right away, they won’t have to wait around crowds and get antsy or uncomfortable. Plus it puts your child in control of knowing when they will get to eat and experience the restaurant.
Keep Your Child Occupied
Autism Speaks reminds us of the value of bringing games, toys, and even snacks to keep your child occupied while they await their meal. The website even notes the value of sitting near a window, if possible, so your child has something to look at and occupy their time while the food is prepared. All of these small steps are the ingredients that add up to be one large and lovely meal out with your family!