Autism and sensory friendly restaurants, cafés and other types of eateries need to be the wave of the future so that the entire family can be comfortable and enjoy the experience.
“When we eat at a restaurant or café, we walk in and we order, we eat, we enjoy the ambiance, we leave having had a nice time”
Now look at this same scene through the eyes of an autistic child; “I walk in… the flickering bright lights are so stimulating, it’s hard to focus on anything else; I start stimming.
“To calm myself, I start involuntarily humming a favorite tune, yet that gets me a lot of strange looks from the next table over.
“I can’t explain that I don’t have control over my body with all these distractions.
“Come time to order I can’t understand the menu, as there are too many little words that I am not able to read.
“I just order something simple; I know I can say burger please. The waiter is asking a question, but I can’t understand him due to all the background noise of people talking and loud music.
“He is annoyed and looking at me impatiently. I’m embarrassed. I eat quickly and quietly because with all this noise I can’t understand the conversations at my table.
“I’m eagerly waiting for the moment we can leave. I wish going out to eat wasn’t such a struggle.”
Making the Dining Experience Better for Autistic People
How can we make the dining experience better for children and adults on the spectrum? A few simple adjustments are all it takes.
My hope is that restaurants all over will become “autism-friendly.” They can do this very easily by making a couple reasonable accommodations.
For example, they could offer a section specifically assigned for people on the autistic spectrum plus their families with dim lighting, more privacy and softer-volume music, or, they might provide noise-canceling headphones.
In this section, the menus would have pictures of meals to make ordering easier, and also, the wait staff could be trained to be familiar with ASD and supportive and patient with the ordering process.
These simple adjustments will make a world of a difference for autistic kids and adults.
Every restaurant should have a sign stating that the establishment is autistic-friendly so families will feel comfortable walking in and leaving, having had an enjoyable time.
By doing this we are not only making this a better experience for autistic patrons, to make them and their families feel welcome and respected, but also for our community, our society, our nation to become more inclusive and to better understand people on the spectrum.
Imagine this Scene
A man on the spectrum walks past the autism-friendly sign at the restaurant’s window and enters smiling.
He asks for special seating where the lighting is dimmer. He orders food off of pictured menus. The wait staff is respectful and kind, patiently helping him make some choices.
The music is a little softer than usual so he can hear and understand conversations at his table and participate in them more fully.
He enjoys his food and feels comfortable and leaves feeling satisfied. This isn’t so hard to imagine!
My name is Jasmine. As of 2022 I am a senior at the Green Meadow Waldorf School in Chestnut Ridge, NY.I started my foundation We Are Autism Friendly in 2021.
I’m passionate about advocating for equal rights for people on the autism spectrum.
Kesari, my sister and 16 as of 2022, is autistic and the inspiration behind this foundation.
We Are Autism Friendly’s mission is to embrace our differences and to make this world a more welcoming, comfortable and joyous place for autistic people.
My vision is to inspire establishments to provide an autism-friendly ambiance, so our neurodivergent friends will feel welcome and comfortable, and a part of the whole.
One thing Kesari and I both have in common is our love to go out for food!
Since Kesari can’t speak nor can she read, eating out can be a stressful experience. Pictures help her express what she wants and they make it easier for us to help her choose!
This sparked the idea of We Are Autism-Friendly! Our service is made to help people on the spectrum plus their families feel more comfortable, welcome and at ease when dining out!
If you own a restaurant, café or other form of eating establishment, here are some resources to help you get started with making your establishment autism-friendly.
Help me spread the word – ask your local restaurant or diner to put up the “We Are Autism Friendly” sign at their entrance.
Reach out and I’ll send you a “We Are Autism Friendly” window sticker and additional resources for a café or restaurant in your neighborhood.
For more information please visit WAAF.
Jasmine Srivastava’s mission is to embrace peoples’ differences and make this world a more welcoming, comfortable and joyous place for people on the autism spectrum.
Top image: Jarvis Hub