Updated: Jan 30
Going out to a restaurant with children can sometimes be challenging for any family. For families that have a special needs child, that challenge can turn into a straight-up nightmare in the blink of an eye. My first thought the minute we walk into any restaurant with Dawson is, "Please don't seat us in the middle of the room."
I did a full reenactment for my girlfriends at happy hour a few weeks ago to demonstrate just what a tantrum looks like on a 6'4" grown man. While we all were laughing about it, it's not funny at all when it is actually happening in a restaurant full of wide-eyed strangers. It's even less funny to have to leave as soon as your margarita gets to the table.
Greg and I recently found a sushi restaurant near our house that Dawson actually enjoys for some reason. Since he can't speak, there is no way to ask him why so we just have to guess. This got me thinking as we waited for our food, feeling pretty relaxed that we were going to make it all the way to the end.
I think he felt safe and cozy in the booth. The booth at this sushi place is sort of shaped like a pod and very private. People can't really see you, and you can't really see them, which means less staring eyes when Dawson eats with his fingers or flaps his ribbon or rubber glove on the table. Most of all, we could tell Dawson was comfortable, calm, and happy.
Within minutes my overactive brain created the perfect restaurant for people like us; Spectrum Cafe.
ALL the booths would be shaped like pods, and a basket of complimentary fries would be set on the table as soon as you sat down. Not seasoned with that goofy salt, just regular salt.
The waiting area would have a sensory wall in the event of a long wait to keep kids calm. No more having someone wait in the car with your child until your name is called. You could also select an item or toy from the sensory basket the hostess will offer to borrow while you are there.
There would be a very beige, gluten-free buffet selection that parents could quickly prepare for their picky eaters, and a decent menu for the adults to enjoy. Happy hour would never have a start or stop time.
The lights would be dim, and relaxing music would play. Adults with special needs would work there, and it would be a judgment-free environment.
Families could enjoy an evening out together and not worry about bothering others in the event of a meltdown or outburst; everyone that would be there gets it and is on your team.
Some people might wonder why you would even want to go out to a restaurant if it is so difficult? The answer is simple to me and most likely for the same reasons you like to go out. You might be tired of cooking or cleaning up dinner dishes. You enjoy tasting new foods and being served after a long day.
But most of all, it's a night out as a family to try and enjoy an experience with good food and conversation. It's getting out of the house after sometimes feeling isolated all day with your special needs child. It may just be the fact that you want to feel just like every other family, that get to do simple things, like going out to dinner, even though it is never going to be simple for you.
At Spectrum Cafe, life IS simple even if it's messy in reality, and everyone would be welcome. Cheers!
Sarah Swindell's memoir, Rounding Home, is now available here! http://bit.ly/RoundingHome