Taking Children with Special Needs Out to Eat

By Tina M
February 13th

Tips for eating out with children with autism and other special needs

By Terri Gowey, MS, BCBA, LBA
Chief Operating Officer at Chileda

Going out to eat at a restaurant for any family can be challenging. Having a child with Autism, ADHD, and other special needs can add extra challenges. Eating out at a restaurant requires many skills including waiting, choosing and communicating the meal choice, sitting through a meal, appropriate voice volume, and general table manners. Some children may also have sensory aversions to foods, crowded environments, and noises.

Tip 1 – Practice at Home

  • Eat together as a family during meal times.
  • Sit a few minutes before the meal to practice waiting.
  • Wait to leave the table until everyone is finished eating.
  • Use communication tools at home that will be used in the community for ordering. Helpful tools are Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS), iPad communication systems such as Proloquo2go or Tech Talk, Voice Output Devices, and Choice Boards.
  • Have a “restaurant night” at home and create a menu to practice ordering. Using a visual schedule that includes each step may be helpful for some children. For example: stand in line, order meal, sit down, wait for meal, eat meal, throw garbage on trays away, go to vehicle.

Tip 2 – Plan Ahead

  • Call the restaurant ahead of time for a reservation or to identify times that aren’t as busy.
  • Pick a day and time that is less busy, especially if this is your first time to the restaurant.
  • Start at a restaurant that your child will have the most success at based on their skills. Some children may do best starting at fast food restaurants because of the shorter wait times.
  • Let the manager know if you need any special accommodations (special diet, seating to avoid sensory aversions, etc.).
  • Become familiar with the restaurant (e.g. bathrooms & exits) prior to visits.

Tip 3 – Go Prepared

  • Bring items that will help decrease sensory overload and keep your child busy while waiting. Examples include sound muffling headphones, favorite toys, puzzles, iPads, etc.
  • Bring any communication tools or schedules that your child has practiced using at home.
  • Review expectations prior to going to the restaurant. Pictures of the restaurant and visuals of another child or character ordering, waiting, and eating at the restaurant can be used to create a booklet to read to your child, also called a social story. At Chileda, social stories are used to introduce changes, teach skills, and prepare for upcoming events.
  • Provide specific praise when your child is doing what is expected, for example, “You are doing a great job sitting nicely and waiting for your food.” Bring preferred items or small rewards (reinforcers) if needed.

Even with the best preparation and planning things don’t always go as expected. You may need to go take a break in a quiet environment or be prepared to leave quickly. Don’t be discouraged if things don’t go as expected. With more exposure and practice your child will gain the skills to eat out. If you are a restaurant owner, waitress, waiter, or eating out with your own family and a child yells loudly, paces the room, stands up and spins, or takes food off your plate, please be patient. This child is working on learning these skills. A smile, offering a helping hand, and just being understanding can make a world of difference for the families, caregivers and child.

This article was featured in the Winter 2019 issue of
Coulee Parenting Magazine.

chief operating officer at ChiledaTerri Gowey is a mother to three children, the Chief Operating Officer at Chileda in La Crosse, and an expert in planning ahead. She holds a Master of Science degree in psychology with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and Licensed Behavior Analyst in Wisconsin. She has over 18 years of experience working with children with cognitive challenges and extraordinary behavioral needs. (more…)

My Chileda Story – Alli

By Tina M
January 23rd

Submitted by Alli Fiedler

As a six year employee, Chileda has drastically changed my life. I wish I could say that it was all sunshine and rainbows and always noticing the residents meeting their goals. As an outsider looking in, that’s what one would expect. The reality is, you don’t always make huge strides every day. What you do is learn to embrace the smaller changes. You notice that a student used the appropriate icon that day rather than showing you a random one.

By being around the students, I have become more patient, more aware of being kind in situations where the typical reaction is to be the most unkind, and more aware of how my actions cause a ripple. I am certain that while teaching the students things like math, board games and manners, they have also been teaching me about kindness, patience, respect and perspective. Since working at Chileda, my confidence has greatly improved, I am in general more mindful and am more aware of my own mental health. This is truly a unique place. Those who are in it, can never explain. Those who are not, will never fully understand.

Marketing Strategies

By Tina M
January 9th

Thank you to the students in the Marketing 309 class at UW-La Crosse. Students assisted with developing marketing strategies for our exciting new initiative, the Chileda Development and Learning Center. Their ideas will be instrumental as we move forward with the Center in 2019!

A Mother’s Journey

By Tina M
December 12th

Imagine crying yourself to sleep at night and leaving your child in the hands of strangers. How would you feel?

This powerful story from a mother takes you on an emotional journey of a family’s love and desperation, telling how Chileda has been able to offer hope and love to not only their little boy, but also the entire family.

Sean and Kim

Dear Chileda,

I want to express to you the saving grace you have been for our son, Sean, and our family. Sean entered your facility on September 12, 2017 – a day forever etched in my memory! Hands down – one of the hardest days of my life.

We tried countless avenues to improve Sean’s Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Sean is mostly non-verbal and as time went on, he became more and more aggressive and violent. Sean would bang his head repeatedly on walls, doors, windows, objects, etc. many times each day. We had holes in most of the inside doors in our home, several holes in the sheetrock walls, and he even put his head through a glass clock on our wall. At least once a day, Sean would attack a member of the family. We had countless black eyes, scratched corneas, bruises, bite marks, etc. We looked battered, which we were, but who would have thought it would be from our own 7-year-old son – or brother?

We employed many, many people and organizations to help Sean, and help us help Sean. I kept a spreadsheet listing all the doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, teachers, etc. that had been involved with treating Sean. It became more and more apparent that something had to change. We could not continue on this path of destruction. We could no longer keep our daughter out of harm’s way, and she was terrified of her brother. She spent most of her time in her bedroom with the door locked. Our worst fear, to be separated from Sean, was seemingly to be the only way to implement behavioral change – according to the many professionals advising us.
I cried my eyes out for hours, trying to imagine Sean not living with us. How could we possibly “drop” Sean off somewhere and leave him? But that’s exactly what we did. We didn’t want to do it, but when our in-home staff refused to come to our home because of Sean’s aggression and violence, we felt we had no other choice. What was best for Sean and us in the long run?

From the first time I called Chileda and spoke to Terry (the receptionist), I felt a little more at ease. She was so kind and listened to me, answered my questions, and waited patiently as I tried to catch my breath through my sobbing tears.

The night before we were to bring Sean to Chileda, I didn’t sleep at all. I prayed that we were making the right decision and that the people we were entrusting to take care of our son were, in fact, “good” people. The staff at Chileda were waiting for us upon arrival and were very sensitive to the situation and our broken hearts. We toured the facility and found Sean’s bedroom and placed his clothes in the dresser drawers and played outside with him on their playground equipment, and left about an hour later. I was hoping I would die on the way home from a broken heart so as to no longer feel the pain. I feared he wouldn’t eat, or be able to sleep.

However, when we visited him for the first time two weeks later, he was happy to see us. He didn’t look the same, but he didn’t look bad. He wasn’t upset when we left. While I still cried all the way home, I was glad that he was still alive. Slowly the guilt over our decision gave way to encouragement that the staff at Chileda was better suited to take care of Sean, and teach him new skills to reduce his aggression and violence. It is very difficult to come to that realization as a parent – i.e., that someone ELSE is more qualified to take care of your child.

Sean has now been at Chileda for a little over 14 months. He is 9 years old. We visit him often.  While the visits will never be like it was at home, we walk away knowing he is well-cared for. Quarterly meetings with the staff indicate he is improving and reaching goals. I am no longer completely anxious while being around Sean. I don’t fear that he is going to hurt me. For some time, I would ask that a Chileda staff member stay with Sean and I in case I “needed’ their help. I no longer feel this is necessary.

Sean is comfortable at Chileda. He knows the routine and he knows the staff. While the staff in his house work with him on life-skills, his teacher and aides in the classroom work with him on educational skills, and they all work with him on developing skills to better deal with his frustrations and redirecting inappropriate behavior.

Sean with his teacher, Ms. Jane

All the staff at Chileda are exceptional. They ALL know Sean. We don’t know all of the staff, but they know, and LOVE, Sean. They see the funny things Sean does and his little tricks. He wants their love and hugs, and they are happy to give them to him. What more could we ask for right now?


Friends of Chileda, I often refer to families like the one in this story as the “invisible people.” Kim’s family, like many families who have children with severe ASD challenges, live behind closed doors wishing and praying for someone to help. Many lack support systems to help and many live in isolation because all of their time and energy is spent trying to care for their child.

Chileda serves children and families who are often desperate for help. We provide hope when there seems to be none. We provide answers when there seem to be none. We provide support when there has been little.

In 2019, we would like to take a next step in our care for each family, improving each family’s experience when they visit our campus. Our current family visitation area lacks in size and hospitality. As you read Kim’s story you can imagine how important each visit can be for a family. We are planning a $90,000 renovation project to improve our building to better meet the needs of our families and create a safer and more hospitable area. This Christmas, would you please consider a gift to help us better serve our families?

We want to create the best possible environment for families like Kim’s and do our best to create a home away from home for each child.

Please partner with us in this project.

Derek Cortez, PhD

My Chileda Story

By Tina M
December 5th

Submitted by Kasi Haglund, Executive Director at Adapta

I worked at Chileda around 2001 while I was attending the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.

I can honestly say there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t think about my time at Chileda. It changed me both professionally and personally. I went on to get a degree in Social Work and I am now the Executive Director of a non-profit in Rochester, MN.

When training others I often use a scenario from my last day at Chileda. I frequently worked with a girl that was non-verbal and could be physically assaultive when frustrated. On my last day of work the lead staff was saying something about it being my last day… the young lady reached her arms up like she was going to hit me. I put my arms up by my head to block what ended up being an enormous HUG! She knew it was my last day. The lead staff and I both were teary eyed. To this day I get choked up talking about it. She forever changed me for the better.

That night after my shift I called my mom. I was crying so hard she thought something terrible had happened. I left a piece of my heart at Chileda that day.

The children at Chileda taught me more in a short time than all of my schooling ever could. I feel honored to have them as a part of my story.

Thanks for all you do!_________________________________________________________________________________________

Would you like to share your Chileda story? Please email Tina Majinski at tinam@chileda.org.

Chileda Volleyball Team

By Tina M
November 21st

Submitted by Toby Wendtland, Scheduler and Recruiter

Chileda participated in the Nutbush City Limits volleyball league this fall. Though staff often had to brave the cold sand with warm socks on, they had a great time and did their best to set the competition. It was a great teambuilding experience and a chance to use all their wonderful Recreational skills outside of Chileda.

Quick Tips for Safe & Successful Community Outings

By Tina M
November 14th

Submitted by Terri Gowey, Chief Operating Officer

Going into the community with a child with behavioral challenges can be anxiety producing. Here are some helpful tips to assist you when going into the community:

Be aware of the environment in which you are going and potential sensory aversions.

  • Bring items, such as sound muffling headphones, sun glasses, their favorite hat, etc., that will help your child if they may experience sensory overload
  • Pick a time when the environment is less likely to be crowded.
  • Prior to visits, become familiar with where exits and bathrooms are.

Be aware of environmental risks such as water that is close by, a busy street, a preferred item your child might dart toward.

Review expectations with your child prior to going into the community.

  • If your child is a visual learner, using visuals to go over those expectations and provide visual cues while in the community are helpful.

Have preferred items or small rewards (reinforcers) available for community activities.

  • Provide behavior specific verbal praise when your child is doing what is expected, for example, “You are doing such a nice job pushing the shopping cart.”

Plan for behavioral challenges.

    • You may need to leave a cart of groceries or other items behind to exit the store quickly.

If it is a new or less preferred community activity, it may be helpful to slowly introduce your child to the community activity.

  • Practice at home by simulating the environment you will be going to.
  • Take pictures of a child engaging in the community activity and make a booklet to go over with your child beforehand.
  • Start by driving by the location, another day go up to the door and look around, the next day go into the office, etc.
  • This has been helpful for doctor or dentist visits, it is best to communicate with the provider ahead of time to come up with a plan that works for you, your child, and the practitioner.

Playing with Playdoh

By Tina M
November 7th

Sensory Tip
Brought to you by Alicia Zielke, COTA

Playdoh is a great “tool” for so many reasons. The playdoh itself has a “gooey” and “sticky” texture, and in this case a strong pumpkin smell, which is fun for kids to explore (especially students who are sensory seeking).

When playing with the playdoh, kids are able to learn and expand on many skills. We can “push” or “squish” the playdoh together and roll the playdoh into snakes providing sensory input to the joints while also strengthening the muscles needed for fine motor activities. We can use the playdoh to form letters, numbers and shapes, turning learning into play. Lastly, this fun pumpkin playdoh can serve as an opportunity to engage in imaginative play and can help our students expand on their creativity!

Recipe: 1 can of pumpkin, then gradually add cornstarch to reach your desired consistency

AmazonSmile – 10 times the support

By Tina M
October 31st

AmazonSmile has donated over $100 million to charities thanks to customers shopping at smile.amazon.com.

To celebrate, AmazonSmile is donating 5% (ten times the usual amount) to Chileda when you shop at smile.amazon.com/ch/39-1244797 through this Friday, November 2.