Dad Starts Autism-Friendly Dinner Club for Families

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Sometimes, something as simple as a shared meal can mean a great deal.

The Zohn family loves to go out to eat together but found themselves making the effort to do it less because restaurant patrons and staff often didn’t understand their 10-year-old son’s needs. Adin, who has autism, sometimes finds restaurant settings and procedures overwhelming.

His dad, Lenard Zohn decided there had to be a better option for his family to find a more accepting environment to eat together. That’s when he had the idea for Autism Eats.

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“We thought there had to be other families going through this too and we could find an environment where we could all do this successfully together,” Zohn told The Mighty.

(Photo: Autism Eats)

Zohn now organizes large dinner outings in the Boston area for families in sensory-friendly, non-judgmental environments. Often held in private rooms of restaurants or function facilities, the dinners are always served buffet or family style so there is no waiting, and the music and lighting are adjusted to accommodate sensory sensitivity. Zohn always makes sure pizza is on the menu (it’s Adin’s favorite).

The dinners happen about every three months, and eight have occurred so far. During the first one, Zohn realized just how much of a need there was for something like this in the community — more than 100 people attended.

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“We were blown away by the turnout,” Zohn told The Mighty. “Subsequent dinners were averaging 60-80 people, many of them driving from hours away to attend the dinner because they want to be less isolated and want to be able to go out and enjoy something that is considered a ‘normal’ activity.”

Zohn says sometimes the dinners function as a place to share with other families about the challenges they face, but other times none of that is discussed. It’s a safe space people can use in any way they like.

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(Photo: Lenard Zohn)

“It’s entirely nonjudgmental,” Zohn told The Mighty. “As a family attending, you don’t have to explain or apologize for any behaviors; we’re all on the same page. It’s an opportunity to share with other families or to put it on the back shelf and just have a nice dinner out.”

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Zohn says people in at least 15 other states have contacted him interested in doing their own Autism Eats outings. He has plans in the future to get official non-profit status for the organization and make the dinners more frequent and in more places.

By Melissa McGlensey

More from The Mighty:

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I Let My 4-Year-Old With Autism Use My Camera. Here’s How He Sees the World.

The Jack Nicholson Line That Made Me View Autism Differently

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