One of the hard things about the last four years is how isolated our lives have become. Leaving the house (or having people in it) is just hard, and sometimes just won’t work no matter what we do. However, the point of life is to live. And living happens in more places than our living room. So, we go. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. But we go. And each time we get better.
Here’s our tips for surviving eating out:
Sit strategically – Ask for a table away from the kitchen (minimizing smells and noise) and in a corner (less traffic). If there are booths, choose one.
Time it right – We go early or late, so there are fewer people.
Prepare – Use social stories (always and for everything). Visit the restaurant’s website or online menu. Talk about anything unusual you might see or hear. I also try to pick something she might look forward to, such as choosing a root beer or lemonade (her favorites).
Process – Afterward, talk about what happened. Find something good to praise. If something was hard, problem solve for the next visit.
Have your “gear” – In the car, I have a bag with headphones, a sling, sunglasses, gum, diapers/wipes/extra clothes, a weighted blanket…anything we might need.
BYOF – Bring your own food. Because the situation is so intense for Helen, it’s very unlikely she’ll be able to eat. Adding hunger to an already taxed child is a bad plan. Depending on the situation, I will feed Helen before we leave or have a snack available for later. Sometimes I bring a meal from home. Right now, our goal is managing the social aspects of a restaurant, not actually eating.
Despite all our efforts, sometimes things just don’t work. If Helen becomes disruptive, we leave. Other people matter, too. But as much as we can, we finish out what we started.
So, if you’re eating out and see a child bouncing in her chair, eating with her hands or consuming obscene amounts of root beer through a straw (while the parents seem completely oblivious), please be patient. It might be us!