Monday, October 10, 2011

Different Perspectives: Dining Out

This entry I would like to discuss dining out and how that might effect someone on the spectrum.  I'm using the word 'person' instead of child, because I find that they sensory experience can be daunting for autistic children and adults alike.  I will also follow up this entry with a some practical ideas to help make dining out more enjoyable of an experience for everyone.

NT Perspective:
I admit that I don't know exactly how NTs feel while having dinner out... I'm guessing that they have a filter that easily filters out most of the background noise, thus freeing them up to socialize.   They can listen to the music, talk to friends and enjoy their meal all at the same time.  This tends to be a very popular and enjoyable multi-sensory experience for them.  Good food and good company seems to be a pretty common goal for most social experiences.

Autistic Perspective:
For someone with autism dining out can be enjoyable, but is often filled with anxiety.  Oftentimes, some people on the spectrum are very uneasy trying someplace new. They might be unsure if they will like what's on the menu, or how it is prepared.  (Remember, we can get so tripped up in our anxiety that we forget that the current situation isn't forever and that there may be another option that we aren't thinking about at that moment,)  Once inside, there might be a wait, which for young kids on the spectrum might be too much to deal with.  Most restaurants have music playing, which is extraordinarily loud to most of us.  I often find that I can't hear over the music to be able to listen to conversations.  Too much sensory input starts making everything get all garbled. When that happens my head starts feeling confused and cloudy.  I might get irritable.  Very low light bothers me when it's arranged in certain ways.  I don't know how to explain it differently, other than there are some lighting fixtures and arrangements that bother my eyes.  Sitting still in a booth or table can be challenging for on the move types.  This isn't squirmy like all kids get, but a real sensory need to move around and physically interact with one's environment.  I almost always feel cold in restaurants, which make it harder for me to deal with other sensory stimuli that is unpleasant.

With all that being said, my family and I really do like to go out to eat.  It took lots of effort and trials and errors before we have found some workable solutions to some of these issues I've discussed here.  I'll be outlining some of these ideas, and suggestions in my next entry.


  1. I agree. The restaurant experience is not always a fun-filled laugh a minute to everyone. It's good to know where the quieter ones are for sure.
    We practiced playing "restaurant" for a long time before we actually tried it.
    We found that sitting in the corner where there will be less traffic works. Bringing their own colouring books/books/ds/etc works.
    But you're right - effort and trial and error.

    Considering we are not really the 'go out and eat' type of people (we're real rut/stay at home people), we've only needed to try this a few times.

    I'm looking forward to reading your suggestions. Out family motto is "we'll try anything once" - lol well with a little push of motivation LOL

  2. I like your idea of playing restaurant. Did your boys have trouble with the imaginary part? Mine would have not been able to grasp it, but I think it's a way to go for the ones that would.

    My family likes to go out to eat surprisingly. (we are such hermits! lol) I consider 'going out' to be anywhere to a nice meal at a steak house to McDonald's, though.

  3. For me, add to the above anxieties the one about diet, will they have anything i can eat without repercussions, and will it be something i like; also the one about 'how much is this gonna cost'.

    The result - i don't go out to dine much!! Well not at restaurants, i do go to my family's for dinner sometimes.

  4. I seriously dislike eating at other people's houses. My OCD-ish self can't get over the unfamiliarity of other people's homes. I'm afraid the food hadn't been refrigerated properly (I am health inspector picky about that sort of thing) or their kitchen clean enough. Unless I am really familiar with the people and am in agreement with their food handling practices, then I will try to eat as little as possible at other people's houses. I pretend to eat, or just nibble to be polite. Even then I tend to be too nervous at social gatherings to eat. Buffets at restaurants are pretty much out of the question. Too many strangers near my food and touching the same serving spoon. Eww.


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