Tuesday, September 09, 2014
When you think of dining out, what phrases come to mind? For me it's a break, a night off cooking, relaxing, fun, family time. For Nathan, it can mean overwhelming, too loud, confusion, too many colors, smells and sounds.
I'm once again spending a Sensory Bloggers Blog Hop focusing on restaurants. Why? Because it was the #1 place where we would experience a meltdown when Nathan was younger. You could almost set your watch by it. It's also the one thing I hear repeated over and over by families with a special needs (SN) child. "We don't go out to eat as a family--it's just too hard."
That attitude gets me every time. I guess I've learned that as a SN mom, I'm prone to meeting the challenge head on, like a bull in a ring. When we knew Nathan would melt down in restaurants, we made the conscious decision as a husband and wife that we would NOT allow this 'whatever it is' (nobody would give us an autism diagnosis back then) to get in the way of our family tradition. Our tradition has been in place since I was a young girl. We go to church on Sunday morning and go out to eat afterwards. That has been the one thing I could count on to never change in my life. I kept it going on my own throughout college and as a married couple, Sean and I did the same. I'll admit in the early married years there were weeks when we could barely scrape a couple of bucks together, but we'd go to the $0.39 hamburger place and get two burgers and one fries to share and take it home to eat. But we went out. Child number 1 is born and we continue to eat out on Sundays. Then along comes #2 and when he's about 2 years old, he starts this frantic meltdown.
If you read my post last month, you know Sean and I took turns being the 'fast eater' who would take Nathan out at the first sign of meltdown. Now, fast forward 10 years and as a 12 year old, he sits with us in restaurants for the whole meal. Loud places, quiet places, smelly places, places with weird lighting--he handles all of them like a champ. When he agreed to wear earplugs at different times, the meltdowns in places like restaurants immediately slowed down. If we forgot his custom earplugs, we learned that no car and no purse was ever without a box of wax earplugs. We still keep them in all gloveboxes...just in case.
We learned at a birthday party that multiple conversations at tables or many tables of conversation going on around us was overwhelming to Nathan. He hears so well that he couldn't figure out which conversation to follow...so he tried to follow all of them in the room. (This party had about 50 people sitting at 6 tables.) The party happened to be at Dave & Busters in a private room. Nathan asked if he could just go back into the gameroom to relax. What?!?! That place is decibels higher volume than the private room...but we finally realized the number of conversations what overwhelming. In a game room, none of the noise is anything you have to pay attention to.
It took time, and patience, to get Nathan to be able to stay in a restaurant. To this day, he's often done much sooner than the rest of us, but he's learned coping skills. So for all the SN families hiding at home, I urge you to give it a try. Maybe eat early (or late) when you can avoid a rush so the restaurant is emptier. We mainly ate fast food so we could pack it up and go at the drop of a hat. Don't give up!!! The result is worth the challenge.