Ideas That Will Make Going Out to Eat More Enjoyable for Kids With Sensory Sensitivities
For many people, going out to eat is considered a treat, but for people on the autism spectrum or people with sensory sensitivities, spending an hour or two at a restaurant can be too overwhelming to enjoy. To make dining out a pleasurable experience for everyone, The Mighty spoke with Alyson Musetti, a behavior analyst at Anova, a nonprofit organization which provides education and resources to people with learning differences, to learn some tips and tricks to make dining out more enjoyable. Below are some ways families can prepare their children, as well as make their own sensory-friendly restaurant kits.
Before Going Out to Eat
Identify Your Child’s Triggers
“If parents know what the potential triggers are for their child, they can be equipped with the strategies and tools to manage those [circumstances] to prevent the problem behavior from happening,” Musetti said. Think back to previous experiences dining out, identify what went wrong and try to come up with creative solutions for addressing those issues.
Prepare Your Child, Let Them Know What to Expect
Let your child know what they can expect to happen at the restaurant. The more information you can provide, the better. Some things you can tell them include the name of the restaurant, where will they sit (table or booth, windows or no windows, etc.), what kind of food will be there, what kinds of people will be there (workers, cooks, other families, etc.), what will they do while they are sitting at the table, how long will they be there, and what happens after leaving the restaurant.
You should also let your child know what you expect from them. Talk to them about behavior at restaurants. Musetti recommends setting the following expectations: using an inside voice, waiting patiently for food, saying please and thank you and sitting in the chair.
You can also look for social stories about dining in a restaurant. Reading social stories can be helpful before going out to eat as well as while you are at the restaurant.
Make a Sensory-Friendly Restaurant Kit
As part of their programming, Anova runs a sensory-friendly restaurant initiative, which provides restaurants with kits that can help children on the spectrum avoid meltdowns. The program is still in its infancy (only a dozen restaurants in Northern California carry the kits so far), so Musetti shared with us how you can make your own. Here is what Anova’s kit includes (links are suggestions with comparable items):