A Social Story Dining Out – How to prepare your child for a meal in a restaurant.
Mindy is a mom of a son who is not on the autism spectrum but does have speech and behavioral issues. She wants to go out and enjoy a meal in a restaurant with her entire family, but typically avoids it because of her son’s problems coping in a restaurant. Eating in a restaurant is typically an indulgence, but going to a restaurant is often a necessity.
Did you know that according to a Gallup Poll 45% of Americans eat in a restaurant 1 or 2 times per week and 16% eat in a restaurant 3+ times per week? It’s no wonder that the restaurant industry is nearly an $8B business and 4% of the GDP. 72% of Americans in households with an income of $75,000 or higher go to a restaurant at least once per week. Eating in a restaurant is part of the American experience and Mindy wants her son to partake.
Mindy told us of her goal, so we suggested using social stories to set expectations for her son and reduce his anxiety prior to going to a restaurant. We developed Social Story Dining Out, especially for Mindy.
Mindy, thank you for inspiring this social story that will not only help you and your family but many other families too.
Here are some tips to help you prepare a child for a successful restaurant experience.
- Use the picture Social Story Dining Out to start preparing your child for a successful experience.
- You can download the PDF of the Kidmunicate Dining Out Social Story here for free here.
- Explaining the situation and setting expectations prior to a new experience will help your child cope.
- During the time leading up to the meal out at a restaurant, we recommend that you establish a routine and read the social picture story every day at the same time of day.
- Customize this Social Story Dining Out by adding or eliminating elements.
- Make it relevant for your child.
- Put pictures in of yourself or your child.
- Replace a picture of food that he or she might not like.
- Upon request, we will send you a free Powerpoint® version of this social story so that you can customize it.
- Scout out the restaurant without your child first.
- Is it loud or quiet?
- Loud might be better if your child is not sensitive to loud noises because any issues might go unnoticed.
- Does the restaurant have a lot of elements that might cause sensory overload?
- Flashing neon lights, 100’s of TVs, loud music, etc.
- Does it have booths?
- We suggest that you find a restaurant with a booth. Have your child sit on the inside of the booth and sit next to him or her to keep them from leaving the table.
- For initial dining out experiences, go to the restaurant when it is less crowded.
- Late lunch or early dinner
- Go to the restaurant when your child is well rested.
- Tired children are more prone to meltdowns.
- Bring familiar and comforting items to the restaurant to entertain your child during the meal.
- iPad, a book, action figures or crayons and paper.
- Pack noise-canceling headphones, if necessary. Some restaurants are loud.
- Move distracting or dangerous things from the table before you sit.
- Remove sugar packets, salt and pepper shakers, glasses and/or utensils, especially knives.
- You can ask the hostess to do this before you sit.
- Inform the waiter or waitress that your child has special needs.
- They will be more attentive and perhaps get the food more quickly.
TRY TO RELAX
- Plan for the best and deal with any problems.
- If your child has a meltdown, stay calm.
- Focus on your child and don’t worry about explaining the issue to other people.
- Many people do not understand autism, so If you want, give the offended person a card that explains autism.
Mom’s of special needs kids are on alert 24/7 and have challenges other moms do not have. If anyone needs a night off from cooking a meal and cleaning up afterward, it’s the very dedicated and hardworking moms of special needs kids. We have had a lot of success with social stories and we hope that this story will allow these very special moms to enjoy a nice meal out with their families.