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Going Out to Eat With Your Autistic Kid? You’ll Want to Read This First

Eileen Shaklee, mom to a 13-year-old boy and the blogger behind Autism with a Side of Fries, shares her best advice for making eating out a little easier. 


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Courtesy of Eileen Shaklee

Yes, you can take them out.  No, stop right there with your thinking, "Oh, her kiddo is probably higher functioning than mine."  It’s completely possible. Let's face it: Babysitters are mythical creatures for autism parents.  Not a lot of us have them and even if you do, they are HELLA expensive yo!  Going out to eat is possible; it just takes a tad bit of planning.

Know your audience.  This is not when you get to try the new fancy fusion foodie place.  I don't call my blog “Autism with a side of fries” for nothing!  Many a meal out has been at eateries with a drive-through window. I would ask for my food to go and then try to eat it there.  If the crap hits the fan, I could pack up and jet fast. Eventually, you might be able to swing going to a deli, pizza place, diner or a bar and grill family-type place.  Fast food, though, is the best and safest start.

Feed them first. Have you seen them hungry?  It's not pretty, is it? This isn't about getting your money's worth on the dining experience.  This is about teaching them how to wait.  Let's not add hungry to that mix.

Bring more food with you. Chances are you’ll order them something you THINK they might eat and then when it comes, THEY WON'T!  Autism is fun like that.

Prep them. Keep it simple. Tell them what will happen. The internet is your friend. Look up the menu. Show them pictures of folks eating at the restaurant. Practice with play-acting at home.

Bring your electronics and screw anyone that rolls their eyes at you for having an iPad out.  You know who I’m talking about: the ones that talk about not having such things when they were young.  Yeah, I call BS on that.  If your parents could have figured out a way to drag the Atari 2600 with them to keep you quiet for 20 minutes so they could sort of feel like couple on a date, THEY WOULD HAVE!  Remember, we are the generation whose moms dropped us off at the video arcade at the mall for the free babysitting while they went to Macy's for new sheets. Times have changed. You work with what you got. Charge them up cause wifi is everywhere.

Become a regular.  Chances are, your kiddo loves a routine just as much as mine.  Use it to your advantage and become a beloved loyal customer. Kiddo is especially good at charming the wait staff by being adorable.  Last week at the diner, the waitress brought a large chocolate milk to him as soon as she saw us come in.  She knows his "usual."  She knows to put in his hot dog and fries order right away and bring it out ASAP while Mom and Dad are having their cup of soup. When they get to know you, they work with you.

Tip well.  That is, if you can afford to do so.  I don't know about you, but you can always tell where my kiddo sat at the table by the amount of food under it.  I call it the "Gee, we really made your shift interesting didn't we?" fee.

Timing.  Think early bird dinners and late lunches. Odd hours are your friend; they’re not as crowded, noisy or busy. Order food specials so you can save a buck or two and put it towards the tip.

Go to the bathroom before you leave the house because even though all restaurants have bathrooms, they also have automatic hand dryers and automatic flushing toilets.  What might just be a loud noise to you can be an auditory sensory nightmare for them. I can't recommend noise-canceling headphones enough. You can pick them up in any hardware or sporting goods shop.

Accept your fate but don't let it defeat your spirit. Some outings will be awesome.  Others, not so much.  Retreat, lick your wounds and try again. You can do this. So can they.

When all else fails, just order another side of fries. Either for there or to go.

Autism is a trip New Jersey mom Eileen Shaklee didn't plan on, but she sure does love her tour guide. Join her adventures with a side of sarcasm (and fries) at Autism With a Side of Fries or on Facebook and Twitter.

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