The Autism Society Philippines (ASP) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of persons with autism spectrum disorder. The ASP has been in the forefront of providing services and training to families living with autism.

02 July 2013

Dining out



Integration and inclusion are important aspects of the personal growth of individuals with autism. Advocates rally for schools and businesses to open their doors to accommodate the requirements of people on the spectrum — this leap begins with a family allowing a person with autism (PWA) the benefit of experiencing every day life in the community. Dining at the restaurant is one such common experience that can be tricky for a family living with autism.

This week’s Angel Talker is Amaris Cabason. She is a frequent contributor to dailies on youth issues and is a sibling to an individual with autism. Her parents, Alex and Marivic, are servant-leaders for the Marikina Valley Chapter of the Autism Society Philippines.

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I remember a story that’s often been told by my father whenever he talks about his experiences in raising a child with autism. He took my brother, then 6 years old, out to eat at a fast food. As they were walking to their table, my brother grabbed pieces of french fries from another table. My father, aside from apologizing to the surprised diners, explained that my brother has autism. Fortunately, the diners just laughed the incident off. I guess it helped that my brother was a cute kid.

My brother is 14 now, and his dining etiquette is leagues better; but I understand how hard it is to dine out with a PWA first-hand. Dining out means a new environment, unfamiliar food choices, changes in routine, and being surrounded by strangers, and PWAs may have a sensory overload from too much external stimuli. As a result, they may throw tantrums or have meltdowns, and cut short what should have been a relaxing family trip to a restaurant. Here are some tried-and-tested tips on preparing for dining out with your child with autism.
PWA Vinz (left) dines out with his siblings.

1. Do advanced research. If your child is a picky eater or follows a restricted diet, it is helpful to look for the menu of the restaurant ahead of time. It also helps to bring your own food just in case. Check the peak hours of the restaurant to avoid big crowds. Check customer reviews — it will give you an idea how attentive and efficient the staff will be to your child. Do they play loud music? Is the service fast? Are the staff friendly?

2. For PWAs who have receptive language, tell him about your plan to eat out. This will lessen the impact of the change in routine if he is notified in advance. This will give him time to mentally prepare for the experience. This will also give you time to remind him to stay in his seat, eat properly, etcetera.

3. Look for a restaurant that is not too crowded, where tables are not too near each other. Your child needs “breathing space,” so he would not feel overwhelmed by the crowd or the volume of people surrounding you or passing by. If the restaurant has a patio, it would be best to stay there.

4. Bring books, gadgets, toys or snacks so your child will have something to do while waiting for food to be served. It usually takes around 10 to 20 minutes for your food to arrive, and the child may begin to be fidgety or impatient during this time. In order to engage him and keep him preoccupied, bringing those mentioned above may help. You may also invite him to walk outside the restaurant for a bit to kill time.

5. Explain your child’s condition to the server if needed. This can help you get speedy service or make the server pay more attention to your table. Be sure to leave a big tip if the server exhibits patience and understanding — kindness needs to be rewarded.

6. Enjoy. Sometimes families get so caught up in trying to avoid a meltdown or attending to the child’s needs that they forget why they dined out in the first place. Families should remember to bond and enjoy and have fun.

This article appeared in print and online by Manila Bulletin on 02 July 2013.

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