Last night we ventured out to Olive Garden in Hanover for a “dinner outing” with Christian. Christian is on a gluten-free diet and loves Olive Garden’s gluten-free Penne Rigate with marinara. The last time we went to a restaurant, as a family was in 2003. We went to Ruby Tuesdays and it was a disaster. We were there for approximately 20 minutes and had to leave. Christian would not sit at the table because he wanted to run around the restaurant and then started yelling when I kept trying to get him back to our table. Not wanting to disrupt others and wanting to actually eat our food, we asked the waitress to pack up our order so we could get him out of there. Therefore, as you can imagine, my anxiety was sky-high last night.
Before we left the house, I told Christian that we were “going to a restaurant” to “go out and eat”. After that, he kept saying, “go out to eat!” He was very excited. To keep him occupied and to help avoid any meltdowns, I brought Christian’s portable DVD player with headphones. This was a life-saver; it kept him occupied and extremely happy. He never got up from the table or tried to walk off. However, he was very loud and of course he was signing the songs from the DVD (he was watching Ice Age) and he kept bouncing on the bench. For some reason he really like the bench cushion.
When we ordered our food, we requested that the side of grapes (that comes with his meal), be brought out as his appetizer, since Bill was having soup and I having the salad as appetizers. We didn’t want Christian wondering why we were eating and he wasn’t. This worked extremely well, again it was something that kept him occupied until his meal arrived. He doesn’t quite understand the concept of “appetizers”. The waitress then asked if we wanted tomato sauce or marinara for Christian’s meal, I was about to request marinara and Bill said that the tomato sauce would be fine. I was worried about that and told Bill that I think we should have requested the marinara since that is what he is used to. He didn’t think it would make a difference. When the rigate came out, Christian looked at it, smelled it and said “put away”.
I then smelled his food and I could smell the difference; he was used to marinara not tomato sauce. Bill didn’t think there was much of a difference, but the slightest difference can be detected by our child. However, even with that, he did not get upset, he simply requested that it be “put away”. We just pushed it aside and he continued to eat his grapes.
He then started eyeing up my chicken carbonara, which wasn’t gluten-free, so I knew he was hungry. When the waitress returned, we asked her to bring some marinara sauce for his rigate. I mixed it in, and gave it back to Christian. He smelled it and then ate the whole thing! Since he was doing so well, we decided to order him some dessert, he had vanilla ice cream and devoured that.
With autistic kids, everything is a process. Getting him to eat take-out was a process. The first time I gave Christian the penne rigate he looked at it, smelled it and then asked me to put it away. Instead of taking it away, I simply left it out where he was sitting and walked away. Within five minutes, he continually looked at it, smelled it and then, with the fork, pressing one piece of pasta to his lips. Smell and texture is what our child looks at before he puts anything in his mouth. His mouth approved the “touch test” and then within 10 minutes he devoured the whole bowl.
Since we started the Gluten-Free diet in December of 2012, his overall behavior and mood has improved. He is not as irritated and whiny as he used to be and sleeps through the night more often. For example, before we started the diet, I noticed that he would have a meltdown immediately after eating McDonald’s Chicken Nuggets and Fries, as well as waking up around 3:00 a.m. On the days he didn’t eat the nuggets and fries, he would sleep through the night.
The staff at Olive Garden were very polite and accommodating. We we arrived, we noticed that the end booth in the bar area was available and requested to be seated there. It was ideal for us since we would be surrounded by people and we were kind of “out of the way”. Not alot of food traffic with waiters and waitresses and noise of people walking by. Being there on a Tuesday night was also a plus, since that is not usually a busy night. Christian does not do well with large crowds of people due to the noise.
Throughout the evening, we reminded Christian of how well he behaved (“good job Christian!”) and that we were very proud of him. He remained in a good mood for the rest of the evening. He knows what “good job” means, he likes being told that he did a good job. If he cleans up something or throws something away and you do not immediately say “good job”, he will look at you and say “good job”. I posted pictures and updates on Facebook so family and friends could share in our “venture”. The feedback I receive on Facebook (about our ups and downs with Christian) is extremely encouraging and helpful.
So our “dining venture” was successful and it was nice to be able to do something that most families are able to do. We actually felt like “normal” people.