Monday, May 7, 2012
On Eating Out With Special Needs Kids: Why We Still Try
Saturday was Cinco de Mayo, and so I decided I "had" to have some chips and salsa (ok, and a margarita, too). The way the restaurant experience went was pretty typical for us. It wasn't one of our better outings with the kids, but it certainly wasn't the worst, either. We went to a local Mexican restaurant, which took about 15 minutes to drive to. During this time, my 7 and 4 year olds hit each other with a toy drum stick, which of course my husband took away, which then caused more screaming. When we finally arrived, there was a 10 to 15 minute wait for a table. My 4 year old fussed and moaned so much that I finally picked him up, hoping some cuddles would calm him down. Once we got seated, we realized the booth was pretty tight for our family of 5, but we didn't want to wait for another spot to free up, so we decided to make the best of it. Now on to the next challenge... Two of my children and myself have food allergies. This was a restaurant we had been to before, so I knew what I could eat, but it had been a while since the kids went to this particular place with us. I was racking my brain trying to remember what things were ok from the menu. Once I got that figured out and the order was placed, I remained busy trying to keep everyone hydrated and happy. My 4 year old requires thickener in his water, so I luckily had remembered to bring that. Usually when we go out, I also bring some extra snacks such as cereal or fruit chews, plus some baby food and his medical formula. This provides a "safe guard" in case he doesn't feel like eating much from the restaurant (which is often), or, in case the food allergies are too hard to figure out at an establishment. If I am lucky, I also have remembered to pack some form of entertainment, although on this day I really didn't have anything with me that excited anyone! Once the meals came to the table, we checked carefully to make sure they had been prepared to the specifications we need, and then we got busy eating. Well, some of us did. My 4 year old pushed food around on his plate. I think he finally ate one french fry. My older kids did fine. However, they are not immune to table time issues, either. Sometimes they get restless and try to act too silly at the table. Other times, an allergen winds up in my 7 year old's food. (He can't have dairy). Sometimes my 11 year old suffers from swallowing difficulties. Even my husband can struggle with this at times, thanks to a disorder referred to as "EE" or "EoE." We have been in restaurants before when one of my kids had a tantrum, cried about reflux, or worse, vomited at the table. With all of this on board, you might wonder why on earth we don't just stay home all the time. Here is why: I like going out to eat. My kids also, generally, enjoy this change of scenery from our normal life. We have a small house and an even smaller kitchen. It's fun to spread our wings now and again. Aside from that, eating is social! I have two children on the autism spectrum. That, or the food allergies and other digestive issues could scare us off from eating in public, but I think of all the opportunities they would miss if I simply isolated them from meals out, picnics, school carnivals or birthday parties. Almost everything social involves food! I would hate for them to grow up believing it is too hard for them to join in these activities. When they become adults, I want them to feel confident that they can handle a noisy restaurant, and that they can navigate a menu. I want them to accept the invitation to a friend's birthday party, wedding or baby shower. At the very least, they can eat ahead of time and simply go for the sake of supporting friends and mingling. This is what it is really about. If I keep instilling in my kids that they CAN do this, then it will positively impact their future. Until then, though... I might be needing an extra margarita!