Restaurant Dining with an Autistic Child
Dining is hard. But we were surprised this time.
So my mom wanted to treat us a belated birthday dinner and this would normally be a happy occasion, except that it now involves bringing an autistic child out. This also means that things can turn south very quickly at any time during dinner. Unlike the predictable home environment, there will be a whole world of challenges that our child have to deal with. We can say for certain that dining out has always been a huge challenge for us.
He Surprised Us!
As soon as we got a table in the restaurant, I was expecting our son to flee the restaurant like he always does. But instead, he actually sat down with us quietly for the first 5 mins without any coercion or force. We were pleasantly surprised!
It definitely felt like a big win for us, even though it lasted only 5 minutes. After that, he got down and began his autistic running-and-screaming again. We could tell he was happy because vocal stims (like shouting, screaming, mumbling) are his happy stims.
He also found the gaudy reflective wallpaper very stimmable. He spent time touching it and “talking” to it. In between those vocal stims and examination of the wall, he would pace and march up and down repetitively near our table. Imagine what commotion it turned to be!
Amused or Annoyed?
On the other hand, the waiters were deeply amused. One of them attempted to engage him few times though he gave neither eye contact nor any response. Other customers were noticeably irritable and begun glancing judgmentally.
Admittedly, he was over the top noisy but we just couldn’t do anything about it.
I know most people probably thought he deserves scolding or spanking. But to us, he was doing very well just self entertaining instead of throwing a bad tantrum and melting down in anxiety. I wished people would understand but I know they don’t; and I don’t blame them. Me of last year would probably judge my current self too.
I know if we were to scold him, there would be a massive tantrum and one of us will have to stop eating to take him away. And that would ruin everyone’s evening. Lose-lose situation.
Never please strangers at your child’s expense.
Learning to be at Peace…
To us, we were at peace. For the first time in months, all of us could sit and dine at the same table. I didn’t want to risk losing that rare family moment despite all the fear and guilt of being judged.
Hubs reminded me with a pager from an autism parenting principle (a Son-Rise technique).
- “Do not be embarrassed of your child”
- “Do not fear what others think”
- “Prioritise your child’s happiness and needs”
- “Never please strangers at your child’s expense”
- “Especially strangers you would never meet again”
We notice there are always a reason for his stims. Screaming and shouting is his way of dealing with the anxiety of being at a strange place. Given that stims are actually functional, how can we bring ourselves to stop a natural self-coping mechanism? I understand now this is why many autism parents just stopped going out altogether in fear of being judged.
We were thankful we didn’t get told off by anyone, though I know of many others who were less fortunate in their dining experience. Reality of this new life just sunk in. We need more autism awareness out here.