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Dining Out with Autism Awareness Restaurant Toolkit

By Shelly McLaughlin & Pathfinders for Autism

Pathfinders for Autism and Council on Quality and Leadership Collaborate to offer Dining Out with Autism Awareness Night Toolkits

June 13, 2008 – Towson, MD – Pathfinders for Autism, Maryland’s statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with autism, is pleased to announce the availability of the “Dining Out with Autism Awareness Night Toolkit” – a step-by-step guide to encourage restaurants to welcome families of individuals with autism and their families.

Bel Air resident and parent of a child with autism, Shelly McLaughlin, worked with Pathfinders for Autism to create the toolkit after her phenomenal success in setting up an Awareness Night at the Main Street Tower Restaurant in Bel Air. Shelly approached the Main Street Tower after learning of a similar event hosted by Pathfinders for Autism and the Rockfish Restaurant in Annapolis. “I leaned about the Annapolis event and thought it was a great idea. I wanted the same opportunity for families in my community,” says Shelly McLaughlin. “I met with Mario Buontempo, the restaurant’s co-owner, who was incredibly enthusiastic about the idea and willing to do whatever he could to accommodate families”.

“Events like this mean a lot to families with a loved one with autism,” says Dawn Koplos, Executive Director of Pathfinders for Autism. “Sometimes the simplest of tasks can be extremely challenging for our families. They may opt not to try new places for fear of their child’s reaction to an unknown environment or the response from other patrons. We are grateful to both of these restaurants for their consideration.”

But, Shelly did not stop there! She decided to create a step-by-step guide for others to use to approach restaurants in their own communities. The kit includes advice for both the individual in approaching restaurants, promoting the event, and also including tips for serving individuals with autism, ideas for gluten and casein-free menu items (many individuals with autism follow restricted diets), and suggestions such as reduced background music (to accommodate sensory integration issues) and a quiet area in case of need.

Pathfinders for Autism also offers free training (and will visit Maryland restaurants in advance) to ensure a staff comfort level resulting in a better experience for all.

The information in the Dining Out with Autism Awareness Night Toolkit is provided by Pathfinders for Autism and Shelly McLaughlin with CQL. The Council on Quality and Leadership (CQL) is an international not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing excellence in the definition, measurement and improvement of personal and community quality of life for people with disabilities and people with mental illness.

Download the Dining Out with Autism Awareness Toolkit

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