Contribution from freelance writer Lucy Wyndham
Every once in a while, the Leka Team is happy to welcome external contributors and share their food for thoughts. This post has been written by Lucy Wyndham whose husband is on the spectrum.
One in every 160 children in the world has autism, which can be a challenging, creative experience. Parents, teachers, therapists, and cutting-edge robotic devices like Leka can help spark a child’s motivation and to get them interested in social interaction and play. Gatherings with friends and family are also key. Dining out, for instance, can help get a child used to being out and about with friends and other family members. If you have a child on the spectrum and you’d like to make dining out as comfortable for him or her as possible, prepare well beforehand to ensure a meal out is a positive experience to be looked forward to.
Finding a venue that matches your child’s needs
You know your children better than anyone and you know what factors they find uncomfortable. For instance, if sensory overload is an issue, research beforehand and pick a quiet restaurant with a booth, where your child can be safe, secure, and calm. You can also quell nerves by booking beforehand. Noises or light outside can bother a child, so avoid queueing up if you can. Make sure to pack the toys your child loves playing with - these might include a favorite doll, squishy toy, stress ball, anything that can keep them interested during the meal.
According to the Autism Research Institute, thousands of parents across the globe have seen dramatic improvements from diets that do not contain refined sugar, additives, gluten, wheat germ, casein, caseinates, whey and other ingredients. Opt for restaurants serving whole, well-prepared meals comprising lean protein sources, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats. It is easy to build a taste for quality produce, so your child will soon be the first to ask you to take him/her to that great restaurant where they serve their favorite salad, grilled fish, or freshly squeezed juices.
Helping an older child prepare for a date
Sometimes, the dinner doesn’t involve family, but rather, a date. Anxiety can be a real difficulty for young adults on the spectrum. If they are planning to take someone out for a meal, for instance, they can think constantly about the worst possible outcome, feel anxious, or worry. Preparation is key when it comes to quelling anxiety. You can help your child feel more in control by perhaps visiting a small number of venues so they can pick the one they feel more comfortable in. You can also help them learn a bit about simple yet effective ways to pair food and classic vintages - a wonderful way to impress their date while they enjoy a top-notch meal.
Expect the unexpected
It is vital to accept and anticipate the fact that sometimes, lunch or dinner out won’t work. Your child may be tired, want to leave, or feel overwhelmed by sounds, lights, or other elements you were not expecting. If so, consider takeout just for that day, enjoy a meal at home, and work on making any changes you can, based on your observation of what best works for your child when it comes to meals outside the home. Try again in a week or two, remembering to focus on being together rather than being out.
To enjoy a great meal out with your child, try to choose a venue that they will be comfortable in. Take the time to pack a fun bag with their favorite toys and choose a booth if possible so that your child can freely squish and squeeze the toys. Finally, be prepared for your plans to not work out, staying positive. Anyone can feel tired, or not in the mood on a given day. Know that there will definitely be better days and countless meals to remember.