Going Out For Dinner With Autism

If you’ve ever wanted a challenge in your life, try bringing an Autistic child out for dinner some time. I’m not saying that it’s so difficult that we’ll never do it again, because we do still go out from time to time… but it can be a bigger challenge than you might imagine.

First of all, you have the sensory issues to deal with… restaurants can have a lot of noises going on, especially if busy, they don’t have the best lighting most of the time, smells all around you and then… there’s the food. 99% of everything I find on every menu… my son simply will not eat. It’s not a matter of whether or not he can, he just won’t. Taste and texture issues prevent him from eating any meats (including fish and chicken), most veggies, most fruits and so on.

Now that we have 99% of all foods excluded from his diet, let’s talk about… his diet. My son is on a gluten free diet because when he eats it… he becomes a monster for the next 3 days. That sounds harsh but quite literally, eating some gluten will result in him becoming totally violent, completely uncoordinated, very difficult to communicate with and completely unwilling to listen or do what we ask of him. So, the few things that he would be willing to eat at the restaurant such as pasta or a grilled cheese sandwich are completely off limits. There’s no way we’ll put him through it or go through it ourselves.

Finally, there’s the tantrums… all of the sensory issues and food issues put together on top of a general uneasy/uncomfortable feeling that comes with being Autistic in public can add up to a complete and total meltdown right there in front of everyone. We’ve been there and had the glares from the people around us as we try to reel in our child back to a volume that’s a little less disruptive.

Then there are the hidden secrets, which is what we’ve been learning to deal with… recently we took my son out to a chinese all you can eat buffet where we figured that they would have at least something that he could eat, maybe rice?

Well, it turns out that they didn’t even have white rice, it all was fried rice… and all of it, fried in soya sauce. Well, as it turns out, half of the soya sauces out there are made with the primary ingredient being wheat, which is gluten. Some are not but many are. So giving him rice becomes a crap shoot… who knows what the outcome will be.

And sure enough, there was nothing else that he would or could eat. He ended up having watermelon, jello and ice cream for dinner. Even the ice cream is not really recommended as ‘casein’ is often included in the ‘gluten free/casein free diet’. But he has less of a reaction to it and a small scoop of ice cream wouldn’t affect him to any noticeable degree.

Imagine, your child is forced to have dessert for dinner because he/she can’t eat anything on the menu in a place where he’s too loud and prone to having a temper tantrum at any moment. Sound like a nice quiet dinner out with the family?

That’s what it’s like when your child has Autism.

I’m not going to offer up solutions for those of you that are looking for ways to make those dinners go more smoothly because I’m neither a professional nor do I think that any of my solutions will be solutions that will work for you… all children are different as are parenting styles.

What I will tell you is that you’re not alone. I will tell you that simply not going out is not much of a solution at all but understandable if you go that route. But I think that the only way a child will be a normal part of society is to get out there and be a normal part of society.  Like with all things, practice makes perfect… your child will get better as will your ability to handle those situations.

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of http://www.stuartduncan.name. My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

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3 Responses to Going Out For Dinner With Autism

  1. Craig July 18, 2010 at 8:26 am #

    We would never take our autistic son out to a restaurant without knowing the menu, knowing the environment, and having a backup plan. Not for our sake, for his. ASD is hard, I am sure you know, but pretending your child is normal and throwing him into situations like this is not a good strategy.

    • Stuart Duncan July 18, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

      Well, as I said, it all depends on your child and your parenting style. For us, our child has come a long way and being put into those situations helps him for the next time he’s in a similar situation. I realize that it’s not for every child though. Bringing my child to a new restaurant is no more pretending he’s normal than giving him a basketball is pretending that he’s a pro basketball player.
      Never putting your child into situations like that is also not a good strategy, if your child is ready for more than just the routine they’ve become accustomed to. “not a good strategy” is a very subjective conclusion to a specific set of circumstances.

  2. Elizabeth July 18, 2010 at 11:17 am #

    I so know where you are coming from with this. Our son has been diagnosed with a PDD – NOS, which we firmly believe is Autism. However, because of his other issues, PTSD, OCD, Bi-Polar, they can not give us a definite on that.
    Taking him anywhere – not just to dinner – but anywhere is an event in and of itself that leaves us drained and emotionally bereft by the time it’s over. But we do it… and we do it again… because each time out is a milestone, another bridge crossed, and another obstacle overcome.
    Yes, we have meltdowns in public, Yes, our son is different, Yes, you look at me like I’m an awful parent… but NO I do not care! My son needs socialization, and the only way he will get that is if WE socialize him.
    Kudos to you Stuart – it’s a journey, but well worth the road traveled.

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