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.
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.
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.