Dining Out with a Young Child on the Autism Spectrum

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Dining Out with a Young Child on the Autism Spectrum

Any parent of a young child knows that dining in a restaurant with children is difficult. Parents of children on the autism spectrum face additional c

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Any parent of a young child knows that dining in a restaurant with children is difficult. Parents of children on the autism spectrum face additional challenges. However, these families need not forgo eating in a restaurant. Indeed, there are times when eating out is simply unavoidable. My older son is a preschooler on the autism spectrum. Using the strategies discussed below help our family enjoy eating in restaurants.

Most importantly, carefully decide which restaurant to choose. Consider eating at a quick-service restaurant, where the food is ordered and delivered at a counter. This will cut down on the amount of time spent in the restaurant, which in turn will decrease the possibility of tantrums.

In addition to traditional fast food establishments, there are also mid-level quick service restaurants that provide nutritious meals and snacks without the need for wait service. Panera is one of our go-to restaurants while traveling as a family, because the food at Panera is served quickly but is still fresh and nutritious. At home, we frequently eat out at our neighborhood pizza parlor.

Another good tip is to dine out when the restaurant is less crowded. A restaurant will be considerably less crowded for an early lunch at 11 a.m. then at noon or 1 p.m. Similarly, an early dinner is best for our family, as our son is not overly tired and the restaurants are fairly empty.

If possible, familiarize the child with the restaurant and the concept of dining out ahead of time. Show the child pictures of the restaurant from the restaurant’s website.

If the child is disturbed by loud noises, try to sit in a quiet area of the restaurant to cut down on the stimulation that he or she receives. If there are booths available, sit in the booth with the child on the inside of the booth next to the wall.

Consider bringing toys or other distractions to the restaurant. While it is ideal if a child can sit quietly or participate in the conversation at the table, such an exemplary display of manners is not always a possibility for any young child. My son loves to play with our phones. An iPad is another great tool for keeping a child on the autism spectrum occupied.

Finally, keep calm, even if the child has a tantrum or acts out. If necessary, get the food wrapped and leave the restaurant.

All families deserve the opportunity to enjoy a meal in a restaurant. Using these strategies can lead to an enjoyable dining experience with a young child on the autism spectrum.

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