I am Lavanya, mother to an 11yr old autistic child Surya. When Surya was 5yrs old I took him to a restaurant for lunch. At first, he ran all over the place, crawled under the tables, lied on the floor and ran out of the restaurant. I ran after him wondering what went wrong. I spoke to his therapist and we worked out a plan for restaurant training. In the first week, my son received intensive physical training during occupational therapy. Once he completed half an hour of OT, our therapist would ask me to place the food and/or drink from the restaurant in front of him. We started with pav bhaji and vanilla milk shake. By the time we finished 6 sessions my son had learned to eat correctly using his fingers and could also drink from a straw. During the following week we introduced the relevant visual schedules for restaurant training. The therapist had asked me to carry his favourite video-game along. We finished the OT session and showed him the visuals. We took him walking to the nearby restaurant. Surya was allowed to select the table and the chair, where he would sit. I promptly handed his game to keep him seated and occupied till we placed the order for pav bhaji. Once the food was placed on the table, he happily ate it. I called for the bill before he had finished his milk shake. His therapist handed the money to him and made him pay the bill. We walked out of the restaurant happy and satisfied. Therefore, parents please ensure the following when you take your little one to the restaurant:
- He/she is a little bit hungry
- He/she likes the cuisine that you order
- He/she has something to keep himself/herself occupied till the time the food has been served.
Additional tips for restaurant training:
- Decide which restaurant to visit and call for food at home so that your child gets used to tasting something new.
- Introduce only one new food item in a month.
- Do not force your child to eat something he/she is averse to.
- Speak to the restaurant staff or manager on the phone and inform them about the child beforehand.
- Choose a time when the restaurant is less crowded so that you can get quick service.
- Initially choose a small restaurant. If the staff or manager is not cooperative choose a more hospitable and accommodating restaurant.
- Don’t let your anxiety pass on to your child. Be gentle yet firm.
- If the child is non verbal then please carry pictures of relevant food items and let him/her make the choice.
- Eventually let your child make the choice on which restaurant they would like to visit.
At present Surya prefers to visit restaurants where they serve butter naan, dal makhni and fried papad. Today my son is very comfortable eating out with his parents in a restaurant. Eating without tears is a child’s privilege and when you see your child do the same, it is very rewarding. So ignore curious stares and do train your child in restaurants to eat happily and peacefully. Please, put in the comment section what you think you would do in such situations. Let us toss some ideas around.
Bye for now.