APE – the Asperger Parenting Experience

The Life and Times of one Asperger Parent

Asperger’s Syndrome Goes Out to Eat

Posted by Patrick on 24 January 2008

Parents, I empathize with you in writing this post.  Yes, I’m talking this time about the sometimes-joyous, often-difficult experience of taking our AS child(ren) out of the house for a meal at a restaurant.  Some parents dread it, others are unphased by it, and I am somewhere on the low end of concerned by it, just to make a comparison.

In this episode, AS goes to a local dine-in Mexican restaurant.  As Denver is very populated with a large Hispanic community, most of whom come up from Mexico, you can assume safely that there are some very, VERY good Mexican restaurants in most neighborhoods with reasonable prices.  Most have 1 or 2 amazing dishes – at this restaurant, the speed of service is legendary and the food is wonderful.  Nonetheless, I digress.  So AS goes to a local restaurant.  What’s the routine?

I find it very helpful to sit in the same family configuration used when we eat at home.  AS sits to my right, his mother on his right, and our younger, non-AS son on her right/my left.  We try to sit in booths at restaurants, so AS and mom sit in one seat and my younger son and I share the other, but we are in that same pattern.  If we were playing bridge/hearts/spades then the kids would be partners, if that helps visualize.

Mexican places work especially well because they immediately have something to munch on at the table (chips/salsa). AS can’t wait when he sits down – it is always time to eat at that very moment.  Generally, we order him something similar to our own food – we purposely avoid getting something childish from the kids’ menu, else he would be getting a burger everywhere we go and he’d grow up thinking all restaurants ever serve is burgers (they are all the same).  It also helps him see that he is “a big boy” because he gets the same kind of food as mom and dad and he gets the same-sized fork and spoon as we do.

So what’s the struggle, you ask?  Well, I’ll say up front that both of our sons are not very picky; they will eat anything we give them at least once – the range is from squid to spaghetti and all items in between.  AS is particularly fond of cherry tomatoes, daikon radish, corn on the cob, red cabbage, and steamed rice (he’s half Japanese, after all).  But imagine the woe when what he orders contains something he doesn’t want/like; imagine the woe when the food is too hot and he’s starving; imagine the woe when AS wants to eat something that the restaurant doesn’t serve.  What do you do? What do we do? I’ll tell you.

First, because AS has a penchant for forgetting he is indoors and thus begins yelling, I remind him that we are not only not at home, but we are inside somewhere else.  Second, in a very calm tone I deal in small, compartmentalized choices for him that he can understand.  An example chain of this is, “AS, do you want to eat dinner or sit quietly by yourself?” (he always answers “eat”).  Next -> “AS, do you want to eat A first, or B first?” sticking to items on his plate. (either answer). Next -> “AS, do you want a spoon or a fork to eat A/B?” and that usually settles it.

I really do recommend using choices with your AS child where possible.  The key, which I think I’ve said in a previous post, is two-fold:  your tone of voice must be calm, sincere, and gentle.  Don’t be fake; don’t be angry; don’t be wishy-washy – kids are worth more than that.  Just be a parent with a level head at this point.  The second key is to make the choices realistic and obvious.  By obvious I mean give them options for which they understand the meaning – don’t be abstract, kids don’t know that A means A, B and C until they are older.  If you try this and it doesn’t work off the bat, don’t give up.  You’re actually helping your child’s decision-making skills by doing this, and you’re helping yourself put a quick end to often difficult situations.  Maybe this is worth a separate post; that’ll be the next one perhaps.

Wrapping up, let me hear your feedback. What do you do that works for you? How do you tackle outings at places like restaurants that are bound to fail for some miniscule reason?  What advice can you give to other parents?  The comment lines are now open…

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