Tag Archives | anxiety

Some thoughts on taking a child with autism to a restaurant

eating outOne of the harder things about having a child with Autism is dealing with the public. Whether it’s having to explain to other people, dealing with the judging stares or just giving up on the public entirely (no more eating out)… it’s a very hard situation to have to face.

Some people learn how to ignore the glares, cope with the meltdowns, avoid the meltdowns or how to accept that they just can’t go out any more. Others do not and constantly feel a heavy weight on them with which ever situation they find themselves in.

News stories such as this one don’t help matters. First, we recognize that society simply isn’t ready as most people don’t have the patience to tolerate a screaming child and second, it instills fear into other parents. They’ll be much more unlikely to take their child out for fear of suffering a similar embarrassment.

This post won’t have it’s normal, natural flow to it as I’m just going to give some random thoughts on this topic as well as, what I hope, are some useful tips.

Why do they have a meltdown?

With Autism comes a whole host of problems, such as social anxiety, fear of the unknown, sensory overload (patrons talking, kitchen noises, background music, air conditioner, bad lighting, smells from the kitchen, etc, etc, etc) and several other issues that may or may not be common for Autistic children.

You add that all up and it’s not a matter of if the child will have a meltdown, it’s when.

Taking a child out of their routine and out of their comfort zone is often enough to do it but when you add in everything else in a restaurant, it’s a recipe for disaster.

It’s not hard to figure out why a meltdown is likely to happen. The tricky parts involve knowing what specifically will be the final straw and also in anticipating the meltdown and either avoiding it or being ready to deal with it quickly.

First of all, do not be embarrassed unless they’re right

If people judge you to be a bad parent or mutter things about proper discipline… unless those things are true, you have absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. Your child has Autism and is genuinely in a great deal of pain and fear, those people not only have no place to speak but they’re dead wrong. Therefore, why should you feel embarrassed?

You can feel bad about how society is or feel bad about having disturbed people but don’t feel embarrassed.

Start smaller than small

Like everything else, outings take practice. They just may take more practice for an Autistic child than for others.

Start in your own house. Put on some music while you eat, have your children be in the kitchen while you cook. Invite some family over and have a dinner where everyone talks at once… but be sure they’re all in on it so they know when to tone it down.

A few of these (the amount of duration dependent on your child) and you should be ready for an outing! But, maybe not to DisneyLand yet.

First, go to the corner store, a department store… just places with people. And when you’re ready for a sit down, start small again with a diner or cafe.

There are less people, less sensory issues and if something does go wrong… there’s less people to annoy and an easier out.

Most importantly, don’t be disappointed at the failed attempts. They’re not failures. They’re practice runs. You may find yourself leaving before you’re done your meal but 2 or 3 attempts and you’ll find yourself leaving before dessert. A few more times later, you’ll be leaving during dessert… and finally, leaving after the food is done.

From there, you’re not done… you move up to a bigger restaurant.

It’s practice… it’s a slow process… it’s not “normal” or what others will tell you is “normal” but you know what? It will get you there.

Every good plan needs an escape route

For all those practice runs and even for the finished product, you need an escape route. A way out if things do go south.

It’s up to you to plan it but try to keep things in mind like, how can the child get out to the car quickly and safely and still have the bill paid? With 2 parents, this is easy enough. If you’re a single parent, you may need to prepare some more. Maybe let the waiter/host know the situation and if you need a quick out, to be ready for you.

Don’t take it for granted. A quick out can mean a much less difficult time for the rest of the day where as a child that feels trapped in there might not recover… meaning rough behavior and even a tough bed time that night.

Even adults with their Autism completely under control still feel a meltdown coming on sometimes and need to know they can get out of there as quickly as possible.

Remember, they’re not bad people

In the news article posted above, the business owner asked that the people leave because they were disturbing other people. The initial reaction to this is disgust because it’s not the child’s fault and people really should be more tolerant.

However, at the same time, you need to realize that this person is running a business where his customers expect a nice quiet atmosphere to enjoy their breakfast. The article doesn’t state how many screams or for how long they lasted but it truly is entirely possible that he was disturbing other people.

Whether the business owner was aware the child had special needs or not is not the issue. It’s a matter of common decency. It’s just about being nice to others.

The others could have and should have been nicer to the mother and her child, understanding that he’s not wanting to bother anyone but also, the mother needs to understand that intentional or not, it is disruptive and forcing everyone else to endure it is not all that kind.

And to pressure the business owner to have to choose between one disruptive customer and the rest that are being disturbed is not fair to him.

This is where the escape routes come into play. If your child is not stopping, if you may be bothering others… use that escape route, go do something else and try again another day. It’s called practice for a reason.

If it’s just not going to happen, don’t despair

All the tips and practice in the world just won’t do it sometimes. Unfortunately, not every child is the same and that means that not every child is going to be able to cope with restaurants.

Find yourself a babysitter, get some respite… what ever you need, if you need your restaurant meals sometimes. Otherwise, save your money and eat in.

Your child will not miss out on life by not going into a restaurant to eat.  It’s unfortunate and I can sympathize but remember, you are sparing your child from actual fears, anxieties and even pain.

Sensory overload is a very serious problem that can be much worse than torture.

Your child isn’t just being a bad kid while out, they’re in pain. And you not going out really is for the best.

We’re all in different situations

We’ve either done well or not or we’ve had to give up… it’s a hard road either which way and we have reasons for being where we’re at. When we see others do something differently, it’s natural for us to question it or tell them they’re doing something wrong.

The truth is though that not every child will do well with practice, not every child should be kept home because of one bad outing.

Don’t feel bad, don’t feel embarrassed. Always have an escape route and do what you feel is best for your child.

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Trying to fit in with the wrong crowd

I want to share with you a conversation I had recently with someone that isn’t even on the Autism Spectrum, but as you read, I want you to think about how it relates… because this was advice that I had given her as if she was on the spectrum.

Her story

She is a young woman, mother of two and very loving. She’s never understood other parents who are eager to get their children on the bus to school or off to daycare in order to have a break because she’s always valued her time with her children so much that being apart from them never felt like a break.

She was always great at school, always had a good job and always took her responsibilities very highly. Even so, she still loved to get out into the great outdoors, do hiking, camping and even had her hand in a bunch of sports.

Since having children though, she’s given most of that up for the sake of her children, not that they need her that much, just that she’d rather spend time with them than to be out doing other things.

The crowd

The friends and family she has are quite a bit more carefree than she is. That is to say, they enjoy getting their breaks from their children. It’s not that they don’t love their children, and all children too, as much, it’s just that they also value their freedom.

As such, the crowd tends to go out, drink a lot, party it up and endure the hangover the next day. They are more inclined to find ways to get their children out of the house to make sure that they can be as loud and obnoxious as they can be without affecting the children. Again, they love the kids and they’re really not obnoxious but they have the freedom to be if they so choose without children being there.

The problem

One night, the woman found herself quite down on herself as she pondered her own short comings. She was boring. She was no fun. She was a square.

She began to realize that she didn’t like partying, she didn’t like drinking and she certainly didn’t like being obnoxious. She tried her best to go out dancing with the crowd and she did her best to have fun with them. However, most of the time, she didn’t drink, she didn’t try to have conversations over the very loud music and she didn’t want to stay out too late because her children would be up early the next morning.

She felt like a loser.

Meanwhile, the crowd felt weighed down by her. They depended on her to do the driving, they depended on her to be a part of the high spirits of the evening. And no matter how much she danced or sang or got obnoxious… she was never really one of them. She never quite fit in.

She knew it, they knew it.

You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole

Square Peg in a Round HoleThe reality of the situation is that she doesn’t fit in with the crowd. They like it loud, they like to come home late and they like to be carefree. That isn’t her.

That’s not to say she isn’t fun. As I said, she has her hobbies and activities and she actually does drink. She just likes to drink in a quieter setting where she can talk to the people she’s with…. at a time where she can still get some sleep before her children wake up.

They value their freedom, their drinks, their late nights and their loud music. That’s fun to them. It’s not fun to her… yet she tries. She tries so hard.

Yet no matter how hard she tries, she feels like a loser. She feels like she can’t have fun, she feels like she’s boring.

Is she who she thinks she is?

Think about this. What happens if she finds another crowd that actually enjoys doing what she enjoys doing? Will she still see herself as boring?

See, what’s happening is that she’s trying to have fun doing what she thinks is not fun, in order to fit into a crowd that doesn’t fit her.

She’s altering who she is to fit who they are and rather than becoming what she wants to become, she’s depressing herself because she’s not that person. In the process, she loses who she is. She’s not them, she’s not herself… she doesn’t feel like she fits in anymore. That’s a lonely and dark place to be.

When you try to fit in with the wrong crowd, no matter how hard you try, you become someone you’re not. Either you succeed and you’re doing things you don’t enjoy or you fail and you’re unable to do the things you don’t enjoy… either way, you are left feeling like a shell of a person.

How does this relate to Autism?

More and more, we try to “integrate” Autistics into “normal” classes and “normal” society… we teach our children the mannerisms, what certain expressions mean, how to behave in certain situations and so on and so forth but for the most part, we have to remember that what we’re doing is helping them to fit into the wrong crowd.

That’s not to say that I know what is or isn’t the “right” crowd, but I do know that those people with Autism that are unable to tell what others are thinking or feeling are very rarely going to feel like they fit into which ever crowd they may find themselves in.

When they say that depression is common among those with Autism, you have to realize what it is that we’re not only asking of them, but trying to force on them.

The woman that I talked to was simply doing her best to fit in with people that weren’t the right people for her… she may be unaware of why she’s becoming depressed but she’s still doing it willingly.

With Autism, we’ve given most of them no choice. It’s fit in or you don’t belong.

Can you imagine how hard that is??

We can’t stop helping our children and loved ones with Autism to “fit in.” They do need to be able to navigate the world on their own but we have to remember what it is that we’re asking them to do.

The woman in the story can learn where she’s going wrong and adjust her own search parameters to find the crowd that better suits her.

My son can’t.

The only alternative to help the woman, and my son (all those with Autism) is to help them be comfortable with who they are. To help them to fit in still, but to understand why they don’t quite fit the mold as well or as easily as others do and to be content with themselves despite that.

Recognize why the crowd looks at them differently and why they look at the crowd differently and be happy with themselves despite that. Accept the crowd and the crowds differences as the crowd accepts theirs.

Square pegs don’t fit into round holes. Don’t stress yourself or depress yourself in trying. Be happy with who you are.

When you do understand it and accept it, you’ll feel better about yourself, the crowd will feel better about you and even though it still won’t quite feel right, it’ll be a whole lot better.

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Autism and Parties, the two don’t normally mix

My youngest who is aged 7 with autism hates the thought of socialising at birthday parties and other similar events. Just the mention a friend’s birthday party invitation brings the little mite out in beads of sweat, making sure we understand that he’s not going to the party under any circumstances “send them a text now and tell them I’m not going, do it, do it now before it’s too late” is what we’ll get.

Before he was diagnosed with autism we just put it down to extreme shyness and nervousness, the hubbub of screaming kids, balloons popping and the happy birthday song were all too much, and the few parties we did attend saw us leaving early, and I mean early, usually before everyone had arrived. As it happens most people understand why he doesn’t enjoy the situation and usually left with a party bag and a balloon.Noise and Autism

The only party that I’ve seen him enjoy was a soft-play activity area, he was agitated before we arrived but once we were there settled down, maybe it was because he could crawl into a ball pit and get away from the other kids? It’s difficult to say but we were relieved that he got some enjoyment out of it.

A family get together is a completely different affair. Not so long ago he would spend the entire occasion watching TV in his bedroom and having food hand delivered on demand until it was time for bed. Now it’s a complete change around, and almost looks forward to the occasion as long as it’s been organised by one and only, going through the fine detail of the arrangements over and over again with military precision. Every detail has to be spot-on and no surprises, surprises are not welcome and don’t go down too well with most autistic children.

We’ve just come to a conclusion that children’s birthday parties are not his scene and he doesn’t feel left out or sad, in fact it’s a huge relief and does not miss them at all.

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