Calm Meals

The modern traditions of family dinners can drive a person with autism right through the roof. Take a look at three simple tips to calm things down and make meals more enjoyable for your friend(s) with autism and everyone else in the house.

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I could actually write a whole book about this topic, but we try to make our FAQautism podcasts and e-mail posts short and sweet, so let us look at three key issues.

(1) ROUTINE. These days everyone in the family sort of grabs some food before basketball or in the middle of homework or when their favorite television show is over. This improvisational style may seem the best route until you find yourself dealing with behavior issues daily around meal time. Most individuals with autism thrive on routine, so consider picking a certain time for dinner each night and for breakfast each morning. This regular suppertime routine and breakfast will probably help everyone in the long run, but it will make a world of difference for your friend with autism.

(2) NO INTERRUPTIONS. Again, the new lifestyle involves constant pings, rings, bells, vibrating phones, and at least one television blaring. For just 15-minutes, turn it all off. You will be amazed how much that one act of courtesy will calm your friend with autism. And you will be amazed at the fun conversations that will erupt around the table.

(3) PITCH IN. One of the best gifts you can give your child, teen, or adult family member with autism is that of increased self-reliance. So everyone pitch in at the end of the meal to help with clean-up. Give your friend a different job each day, so he can enjoy the routine of clearing table on Mondays, emptying dishwasher on Tuesdays, taking out trash on Wednesdays, and so on.

TIP FOR THE DAY: All of these strategies may seem like a burden to the rest of the family, but just introduce the new routines quietly and cheerfully, accepting no grumbling, arguments, or drama. Most families and group homes that follow these three tips have commented on the increased calmness, decreased tantrums, and general contentment for their friend with autism. So, give it a try.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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