Accessibility, IME, Life Care Plan

A Dining Experience Designed for Families on the Spectrum

 September 20, 2017

By  Deborah L Weiner Katz, OTR/L, CCM, CLCP

When naming organizations and events that support autism awareness, we sometimes choose names that let the world know what people on the autism spectrum can do. Autism Speaks was founded by grandparents of a child with autism, merging three different autism organizations with the mission of serving the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Autism and speech delay are believed to be interrelated and advocates push for early diagnosis and treatment in order to help children on the spectrum with their speech skills. Now, while Autism Eats does not necessarily teach anyone how to eat per se, it does provide a restaurant environment that is sensitive to families whose young ones’ behavior can be difficult or disruptive in public eateries.

Already being duplicated in 11 states, Autism Eats offers its young guests a break from stares and allows their families a chance to be less self-conscious and focus on enjoying a meal together. This is done by renting private rooms in restaurants that support the program. Everyone eats buffet-style so cuts down on wait time, a major source of frustration for these families. In these rooms, behavior such as wild gesturing or tantrums is not met with judgment or criticism. Wandering is easily contained, as well.

Autism Eats was founded in 2015 by Delphine and Leonard Zohn, as a sort of supper club for parents of autistic children. As parents of an 8-year old autistic boy, the Zohns enjoyed the social aspect of dining out but were on the verge of giving up due to their son’s unpredictable behavior. Autism Eats presented the ideal solution. By inventing a less stressful way to dine out with their son, Leonard and Delphine opened the door for other families in similar situations.

Experienced parents with older autistic children may tell you that, these days, they take their children everywhere and handle situations as they occur. However, they also remember what it was like to be new parents and struggling with the adjustment. Public reactions to unconventional behavior leads to a need to explain. Awareness and advocacy groups are hard at work training the public to respond differently but, in the meantime, those explanations can wear anyone down. Autism Eats offers a dining experience, minus explanations and the stress that goes along with them.

Autism Eats also offers training to restaurants. The training covers various topics related to autism. Restaurants that wish to be certified can apply here. If you are interested in having an Autism Eats dinner in your town or city, contact the organization here

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