Today, 1 in 88 children under 8 years old is diagnosed with autism. It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups and is four times more likely to strike boys than girls. Raising a child with autism can provide much joy, but also comes with its own set of challenges. Going out to eat at a restaurant can be difficult for any family, but can be especially problematic for families dealing with autism.
A young Boston family confronted with autism created Autism Eats as a way to “bring the fun back to eating out”. I had a chance to catch up with Delphine Zohn, who co-founded the organization with her husband Leonard, to ask her about Autism Eats.
Mark your calendars- the next Autism Eats event will be held on April 10th in recognition Autism Awareness month. See below for details.
What is Autism Eats?
Delphine: Autism Eats is an organization that provides autism-friendly non-judgmental environments for family dining, socializing and connecting with others who share similar joys and challenges
Why did you create Autism Eats?
Delphine: Going out to a family dinner when you have a child with autism can be very stressful. Behaviors can be unpredictable, other diners may be disturbed and the well intentioned restaurant staff typically does not know the best way to assist. To some families it can feel like all eyes are on them. Because of this many families decide it is not worth the effort and dont go out to eat. This is unfortunate and can lead to feelings of isolation. We created Autism Eats to give families an opportunity for a real night out at a restaurant and to be with families who are experiencing similar challenges. There is no need to explain your child’s behaviors or make excuses which can be a tremendous relief. In addition we set up the room for success….food is served buffet style and is available immediately, music and lighting are adjusted for those with sensory sensitivity, volunteers are there to expeditiously welcome and check families in and there is an activity table for those that want to color or do a craft.
What do you hope to achieve through the organization?
Delphine: Our goal is to give families an opportunity to go out and enjoy themselves. We also want to help build community and relationships with others. Siblings of children with autism are likely dealing with issues that their peers are not dealing with or wouldn’t understand. Autism Eats lets them meet others who have similar feelings, concerns and emotions. It can help them understand that they aren’t the only ones. This is also true for the dads who may not seek out or have as much access to other dads of children with autism. My husband, Leonard, had a dad come to him with tears in his eyes thanking him for starting the organization and telling him he has not been out to a restaurant with his family (other than McDonalds) in over four years and how wonderful it was.
When/where are the events?
Delphine: Our last event was at Andolini’s Restaurant in Andover, Massachusetts. We had over 100 guests! Since then we have received inquiries from all over the country from individuals and organizations that want us to hold dinners in their communities.
Our next event is going to be on April 10 at the Recreational Education Center (REC) in Peabody, Massachusetts. In recognition of Autism Awareness Month, The REC is a sponsor of the dinner and hosting it at their creative play and learning space. A buffet dinner will be served and kids can eat and play for no charge. It is going to be a very fun night!
Who can join and where would they get more information?
Delphine: Information and tickets can be found on our website www.AutismEats.org.
Chances are you know at least one family raising an autistic child. Please pass this along to anyone who is looking for a safe and supportive environment when dining out with autism.
Let me know if you’re able to join on April 10th!