As a prior teacher of Autistic children, I often noticed that parents of my students were reluctant to take their children out to eat in a restaurant. When asked why, the parents responded that it was too difficult to ensure their child behaved properly with good table manners. The earlier training starts, the better it is for any child, especially autistic children.
As parents now, levels of functioning differ between different children. Some merely have minor language deficits, while others have social, language and learning deficits. Many of these tips for teaching basic table manners are geared toward severe autistic children, but can be used to assist any child with a learning disability in practicing proper table manners.
Take Children With You
This may seem like such a simple thing to do, but in reality it isn’t. Many parents just avoid taking their child out to eat because of the difficulty in teaching manners. Without practice in an actual setting, how can a child learn? I always suggest finding a small restaurant with private tables in corners or a special meeting room. Explain to the hostess or manager that you are trying to teach table manners and restaurant skills to your child and you ensure they will not be a disruption. Follow this up by taking your child outside as soon as they act up or disturb other customers.
Begin Training Early and at Home
Always include your child in dinner at home. Keep a routine with the same dinner time and same seating. Routines help ease any discomfort your child might have. Start with a few simple things that you want to teach your child and break them down into steps.
Teach Skills in Steps
Break down table manners into simple steps. As a parent, you best know which skills your child needs to practice. These steps could start with something as simple as which utensil to use too chewing with mouth closed. Decide what your child needs to learn and practice that one skill over and over until they have accomplished it. Encourage your child when they have completed a task. For example, if your goal is to teach your daughter to eat with her fork instead of her hands, keep placing her hand on the fork every time she puts her hand in her plate. If she continues, move the plate and tell her she must eat with utensils. Begin again. It takes repetition, but practice pays off.
Parents of autistic children are familiar with picture schedules. Placing pictures on the table or even your child’s name tag on his chair can help him remember what goes where and what is expected of him. Place Velcro pictures of proper places for utensils and picture reminders to chew with mouth closed and not to get up out of the sit. When your child isn’t obeying a rule, simply point to the picture and remind them quietly. When going to a restaurant, many parents take the pictures with them to visually remind their child where to place utensils, hands and themselves.
Teaching your child table manners as early as possible will make you and your child proud. You then can bring your child to any restaurant or function confident that they know the basic skills to have a relaxed enjoyable dinner out.