My student

My student

Friday, January 16, 2015

Dining out

One of our favorite things to do as a family is to go out to eat. We have specific places that we stop at on our various doctors appointments as well. For example, when we go to New York to see Dr. Sasha, we always stop at Chili's on the way home. And when we go to Williamsport to get new AFOs from Bernie we always eat lunch at Ruby Tuesday. So a few months ago I started thinking about how Lu could more efficiently and independently choose what she wanted when we are out to eat, and even maybe order her meal on her own.  After all, if Lucy was a child who could verbally speak, I would be encouraging her to do the same thing.

On "Lucy's Homepage" on her Tobii I have a page she can go to called Activities where she can play some games, play the piano or drums, write with an alternative pencil, and then I added just a link to restaurant menus:

Then she can open the menus I have created for her so far:

I have used either actual menus from the restaurants or just found images on Google of the entire menu, to put them onto Lu's Tobii and then I decided how she could best make her choices. Here is a more exciting kids menu for an example:

 This is from Chili's. 

And this one was much less interesting for children, but I just added pictures so she knew what she was choosing. This is from a local restaurant called Olde New York:

Here is how the progression of Lu's choosing and ordering success has gone:

In preparation of going out to eat, I show Lu the menu several times in the days beforehand, so she gets an idea of what she will be able to choose from. I even pretend to be the waitress and use a pen and paper and ask her what she would like to eat and then when she makes a choice I write it down and show her. So, we do this however many times it gets done, just casually, for a few days before the big day. 

The first time Lu had her own menu in a restaurant was at Ruby Tuesday. She had pretty consistently chosen grilled cheese and a cupcake at home, but not surprisingly, when the time came that the waitress was there asking her what she wanted, she kind of froze up. In the end, I asked her if she wanted a grilled cheese and she nodded yes. Leading up to her first try of ordering out (and each time after) I assure her that she can choose to order for herself or not, no pressure. 

The second attempt was at Chili's. This time she chose a chicken sandwich when the waiter was not around, so we ordered that for her. She was very pleased with herself for making her own choice known.

The third time was just a few weeks ago. We took my parents out to eat, as a Christmas gift, at Olde New York, a local restaurant with German-type foods. As the waitress waited for Lu to say what she wanted, Lucy chose chicken tenders! It was awesome! So that's what she had, chicken tenders, because that was what she chose! 

Is this "school"? I say hell yes. Is this teaching? Ummm, undeniably yes. I feel like one of the most important things she is learning in these "lessons" is not just how to order her meal at a restaurant, which is something we all need to learn, but she is also learning that she matters. She is continuing to learn that she is capable of participating in all aspects of life, and not just that she is capable, but that we expect it of her. There is some literacy involved, and she is continuing to improve her abilities and proficiency in using her Tobii, but sometimes I think the lessons that are even more important for Lu (and all children) to learn involve not academics, but lessons that help to teach them about how valuable they are as humans, and how to interact with the world around them. 

I don't know if this desire is so strong in me due to the fact that people with disabilities can often be seen as "less than" in society. Less capable, less valuable, less likely to contribute as people who do not have disabilities. That is why I will often pour all of my energy into activites and projects that will continue to help Lu know we value her, and instill in her a sense of validity as a human. I always want her to know that things are possible for her, and one way or another, she will contribute and live a full life.  And I think, just learning that she CAN choose and order her own meal is a small step toward a big future.