The family cannot do so, because one or more of their children is autistic. The noise of clanking, clattering dishes, crying babies and bright lights incites a very physical and verbal meltdown. The child hits themselves. They scream. The judgemental stares and tongue clucks begin.
It is simply safer and less humiliating to eat in.
Now imagine the autistic child grown up. Perhaps they have learned to better manage sensory overload and get away from a situation before it leads to a meltdown. Maybe they always have a safe person with them (as I do) when they are away from home. Perhaps that person is the parent. They still would like to have a meal out with the entire family, but it won't happen.
It's not that the family never tried again. This time, the autistic person wore earplugs and sunglasses. They were older and did their best to cope, but coping was all they got out of the experience. They could barely speak due to the same sensory triggers as before, even though they were muted this time. They barely ate, because their guts were in knots from anxiety.
The best laid plans of mice and men did a little good, but not all the AIT, medication and psychiatric intervention could make a dent with the sensory barriers, so the family continued to eat together at home.
The young, autistic adult wants to be included. Just because they like spending more time alone than with others doesn't mean they don't desire that time with others. They wish they could just sit back and enjoy the smell of their favorite dish or have a conversation with mom, dad and siblings, but that often has to remain just that- a wish.
Unless: We rethink how to accommodate customers with special needs. People without autism who have anxiety and panic disorders could benefit immensely if restaurants had quiet areas for people who want the experience of dining out without having a panic attack or flashback.
If Disneyland can accommodate kids with "cognitive disabilities" who can't wait in long, noisey lines, why can't Olive Garden or Cracker Barrel do the same for the restaurant industry?
AMC has "sensory friendly films". This is also geared toward autistic kids.
Since kids with autism become adults with autism, incorporating people with neurological disabilities makes sense both financially and morally.
Autism isn't going away. More people are being diagnosed at earlier ages.
In 1979, the year I was born, the autism rate was 1 in about 2500. Today, it is 1 in 68 (One out of every 68 8-year-olds-source-CDC).
Broader diagnostic criteria, the environment, vaccines. I won't go there. That isn't the purpose of my post.
The point is, autism isn't going away. Autistic people are growing up, some of them earn college degrees, have careers, get married and raise families. It isn't that these people don't struggle with sensory overload or relationships. They do. Quiet zones in restaurants (and most everyplace else) would help those of us who are more independant remain that way, as well as those of us not so fortunate.
I was the autistic child who turned on the vacuum and pleaded with my parents and the waitress to let me vacuum the floor in order to relieve my overwhelming need to stim (self-stimulate). I needed to break free of sitting still for a long time and the general commotion of the restaurant. I was four. Fortunately, my desire was fulfilled.
Eating out in public became impossible when I was 16. I am a living example of how autistic regression can happen in adolescence. Noises that were painful became unbearable. Pushing a vacuum wasn't going to alleviate my pain.
Having a quiet area, preferably walled off from the rest of the restaurant for a calmer dining experience would make eating out with the family I have left possible.
I don't see how creating adult only quiet zone rooms in restaurants couldn't generate profit. Off-peak hours and days could benefit a restaurant in an area where there isn't a huge need for prime time dining (pretty much 4pm into the evening). I'm sure the benefit would be in larger, urban areas. I only live forty minutes away from a major city.
I'm sure the need will reach the smaller suburban towns as the autism rate continues to increase.
I've spoken of housing for autistic adults who need a quieter environment than most. Now I'm taking the idea to restaurants.
Here is a post I previously wrote addressing how businesses can include autistic people.
I have also written on the need for a varied approach to housing autistic adults.
There is no such thing as "One size fits all". Anyone who has ever bought clothing with this label knows it.
Creating different autism friendly models that take into account the autistic people in a particular community. From sensory to dietary to whatever else factors in, I think it can be done. I think it must be done.
|Me with my mom leaving early after attempting to eat at a family restaurant, 2012.|