Friday, July 15, 2011

Eating In. Dining Out.

I read two interesting pieces this week regarding children and restaurants.  The first is that Denny's (in Maryland) is hosting an Autism Awareness Night on July 27th between 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.  For more information, click here. And the other article, non-autism/special needs related, was about one (upscale) restaurant was banning kids under 6. I like both ideas.  And it inspired me to write this. 

Over the 4th of July weekend, we took The Boy out for brunch with our good friends Matthew and John (aka Nino [The Boy's Godfather] & Uncle Johnny.)  We went to Peels; a trendy little place on Bowery.  Typically this isn't the kind of place we take The Boy.  But we were in the area, hungry and with two of our favorite people.  It wasn't part of our plan, we had no reinforcements.  No iPad, no Leapfrog, no books, no variety of toys to keep The Boy occupied.

Once again, The Boy surprised me.  We enjoyed our meal, had a few drinks (I had 3 - The Peels Punch, YUM!) and lingered in adult conversation for a few hours.  It was GREAT! The next day when I spoke to Matthew, he told me how impressed he was with The Boy.
Just because The Boy has autism, doesn't mean we live in a cave or that we shelter him from new experiences.  And we don't use autism as an excuse for "bad" behavior.    We want expect him to sit at a table and eat.  Clearly, we're not going to take him to Per Se anytime soon.  (okay, probably never considering it's about $150 per person.) And obviously we're not going out for dinner on a Friday or Saturday night at 8 p.m. But every once in a while, we like going out to eat and we haven't let autism get in the way. 

We are not the kind of family who eats dinner at the same time, seated around the table every night.  Between my work and school schedule, The Husband's work schedule and The Boy's therapy schedule - we just don't have that time.  (I wish we did.) During the week we all eat separately.  I often, stand at the kitchen counter, shoving food frantically in my mouth.  The Husband - usually the last to eat - eats while watching TV.  But The Boy, he always eats at the table.   

On the weekends, it's easier for us to eat as a family.  At times it's challenging since The Boy has a hard time sitting still (especially at home).  He likes to get up and run around at meal time.  But when he gets up, guess what?  I'm picking up the plate and taking it off the table.  After a few times, he gets the hint.  If he's really hungry, he'll sit and eat until he's finished.  If not, he'll let me know when he's ready. 

Going out to eat, we don't really have that option.  At first, I used to be scared of taking him out to restaurants.  OMG! What people will think?  (Could care less what people think now.) 

So we started at kid friendly places, like fast food joints or the neighborhood diner.  Places that were within walking distance, just in case.

We'd pack the necessary provisions: toys, books, the leapfrog (with a few games) etc.  We'd sit down and order.  Ordering would be done quickly. We'd let The Boy sit for a while, talking to him about where we were, asking him what he wanted to eat.   We'd wait before bringing out any toys.  Toys were always the last resort.   

When The Boy started to get antsy - usually right after we ordered - one of us would take him outside, walk him around the block and then bring him back.  By this time, the food was ready.  And if The Boy got antsy while eating, we'd start bring out toys.  Sometimes we had dessert, sometimes we didn't. 

We've upgraded to nicer places but still family style restaurants - like PF Changs or F & J Pine (a popular Italian place in The Bronx).  The Boy LOVES Chinese, so he's at his best behavior.  

Each time we go out, we increase our table sitting/eating time.  We ask The Boy what he wants and when it's time to order, we ask The Boy to tell the waiter what he wants to eat.  Usually I repeat the order.  We prompt The Boy to say 'please' and 'thank you.'  We include The Boy in the process.   

He's getting it.  Slowly but surely, The Boy is getting it.  And I think he is starting to enjoy it. 

Our meal at Peels (tee hee, that rhymes) was probably the nicest place we've taken The Boy to eat.  He was the only 5 year old in the place.  And it made me so proud, that we were able to take him there and he was able to sit through it like a little man.

Here are a few more articles that have suggestions for dining out 

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AutismWonderland - written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez - is a personal blog chronicling a NYC family's journey with autism, while also sharing local resources for children/families with special needs.