Monday, January 13, 2014

Waitresses, High Chairs and Autism

Sometimes I want to write a open letter to waiters and waitresses everywhere.  Okay, just waitresses, and more particularly just a special subset of waitresses, because for some reason waiters don't seem to be super bothered by the topic that's on my mind and thankfully the majority of waitresses don't either.  In fact, most waitresses are super awesome with Maggie.  But it's happened often enough that I'm finally decided that I had to get these thoughts out on the page.

Surprisingly when we do brave taking all three kids out somewhere Maggie usually does fantastically.  The kids loves food.  She gets excited about eating.  And she's usually really excited to be eating out.  

She uses a spoon like an expert. It's probably her best small motor skill since it's something she's super motivated to do, so she's not even a messy eater anymore.  

But there is one thing that makes her stand out when we're in restaurants and I've found that the reaction of the server can make a huge difference in the dining experience from the moment the topic comes up (while we're being seated) to the moment we leave the restaurant.  

Which is the inspiration for this post:

Dear Waitress-glaring-at-me-from-across-the-restaurant,

I'm not quite sure why, when we asked for two high chairs, you took it as a personal affront.  I know that my daughter is tall.  I know that she looks big, even for her age.  She's really only three, but she's the size of a five year old.

She looks normal, right?  I mean when you're looking at her and she's perfectly quiet and well behaved in her father's arms, you can't tell that there's anything extra special about her, can you?  Sure, maybe her hair is perpetually mused because of her near constant movement and the outfit that she insisted on wearing out, a tutu over her pink penguin sleeper with bright red boots and a cardigan that MUST-be-zipped-up-to-the-very-top-lest-the-world-end stands out, but other than that she looks exactly like every other kid.

Your words, dripping with disapproval, let me know that kids her size shouldn't be in high chairs.

But the thing is, she's not quite like most of the kids you run across.  She's autistic, and while she's made amazing strides in not-running-away-every-time-she's-put-down we still have a long way to go.  If I put her in a high chair she will sit in that high chair and be on her best behavior.  She'll eat every bite on her plate with slow, careful movements (she's always the last one done eating).

One the other hand if I put her in a normal chair she will spend next hour trying to stand up and climb the blinds so that she can swing from the light fixtures... while screaming cheerfully at the top of her lungs.  And that is not an exaggeration. The sites, the sounds, the smells of your restaurant are just wonderful.  And she'll want to experience them fully, in her own, exuberant way.  She just won't be able to resist their siren call.  

We were in your restaurant a couple of weeks ago because, like lots of other people in this city, we hadn't had power in a week.  We stumbled in, looked exhausted, because we were.  And we asked for two high chairs, anxious to sit down and get the kids fed.  "Two?"  You said loudly, your tone disapproving.  "Yes, two." I repeated quietly, trying not to notice that several people had turned to stare.  "I don't think she'll even fit in one of our high chairs."  You continued in a voice that everyone in the restaurant could hear.  "Are they the grey ones that you guys usually have?" I asked.  You nodded.  "Those are the best kind for her.  She'll fit."

And so you slowly and sullenly brought it over.  By that time though, a funny thing had happened.  The other patrons around us seemed to have joined in your disapproval.  Look at the child, so big, who needs a high chair.  It's ridiculous.  The three tables around us were openly glaring when we were seated.  And this wasn't a fancy restaurant.  It was a regional hamburger place.  Not exactly a place that you don't expect to see kids.

Reason #305 for high chairs...
Usually people look at Maggie and smile.  Her personality usually inspires that reaction.  But your reaction to our request seemed to rub off on everyone around us.  Who wants to sit by a kid that big who needs a high chair.  Usually people don't notice.  But you'd made it into a big deal and so it became a big deal.

Interestingly enough, she lived up to your expectations.  Our time with you included a special brand of misery not usually present at our meals.  I haven't seen her that wild in a restaurant... well... ever.  Maybe she could sense my stress level as the tables around us stole glances ever few moments, waiting for the behavior that was surely coming to start.  She hardly misses anything, so she probably noticed the glares, and your disapproving tone, as well as I did.  I spent the entire meal managing her behavior.  By the time the meal came I was ready to take it back to our water-less motel and eat it there.

Somehow we made it through and I basically collapsed into my seat when we made it to the van, praying that our power would come back on so that we would never have to eat out again. Ever.

I know, I know, you didn't know.  If she'd had a sign on that screamed "I'm a little bit different" you probably wouldn't have been so obnoxious.  But maybe next time, instead of assuming that a child is being spoiled and that the child's parents deserve to be showered with your disdain, just get the high chair.  It'll make life a lot easier for everyone.


A Mom Who Truly Appreciates a Little Understanding


  1. Oh I do hope that you send your experience to the resteraunt directly ( and the hotel about the water). A little training about autism would be good to mention for the waitresses.

  2. My neurotypical son was still in a high chair at home at Maggie's age and I suspect my daughter was as well. We never got a hard time about our kids getting high chairs because our son was just average size and our daughter was downright tiny. At Maggie's age she only weighed about 25 lbs. It's too bad that people don't realize that kids come in all sizes and that some very big kids are still developmentally at the stage where they do better in a high chair. Of course waitresses do have to bring you the high chair and sometimes high chairs are in limited supply, but disdain is never called for. Disdain would earn a very small tip from me (just to demonstrate I didn't forget the tip, but didn't appreciate the service).

  3. I don't know if this helps but, I have found I avoid a lot of rudenessdeness and scoffs by just coming right out, all the time, and stating very plainly, my son has autism, I need xyz accommodation for him. People are usually very very understanding when I do this. It's gotten more and more necessary the older he's gotten too. Just my experience, I thought I'd pass it on. It's too bad that people would be that rude in any case, especially over something as benign as a high chair! There's no excuse for that.

  4. How sad that you had to experience this. I will reiterate the first poster's hope that you brought this, in writing, to the attention of the restaurant's manager, noting the waitress by name. It's great to get it off your chest, but it doesn't do anything to raise the awareness of that restaurant staff.

    I would also not hesitate to have quietly and kindly told both the waitress and any glaring patrons, "she is autistic", which may have shamed them as they deserved.


  5. Testing!

    Your kids are adorable, and nay-sayers must beware the ire of your readers!



  6. Hugs.. I'm sorry!

    We actually had a checkout lady say ZJ is weird right in front of him because he wouldn't talk to her/people he doesn't know. I know he heard, he's like her with that... notices everything.

  7. I'm thankful we never had this issue. I'm getting kind of used to stares in public, though, due to Peter's brace. Thankfully no one has been rude about it yet.

  8. I totally understand Cammie. I feel for you and i recommend that you do write a letter to the restaurant manager. In fact just print this blog post. Eddie takes FOREVER to eat. We have to constantly tell him to eat and every time we go out, unless isn't familiar with, i dread it. People stare at us making sure he eats his meal. We are there for over an hour and when it is busy we get our check way before he is done. Then they keep coming back to see if we are "okay". Basically they want our table, but our son is still eating. The other kids get antsy and that makes things worse. We don't order dessert and they ask about that in front of our kids and we are like, um thanks for making another problem of us having to tell our daughter that she can't get ice cream. Sigh...It is sad that you need to tell the servers anything, but i would next time i went out.

  9. For us, it's shopping carts. My son is 12, but is 5'4" and around 110 lbs. He really doesn't fit well in them, but he 'needs' them right now. We get the stares, and we even had one store employe tell me not to allow him to climb into the cart. I am constantly telling people that he has autism, and they tend to apologize, but it would be nice if they just didn't express their negativity at all.

  10. This is about the comment problem: Well, it's opening a separate window now, instead of refreshing the page and the comments appearing at the bottom.

    I wonder how good it is to say to strangers, "She's autistic." I mean, it really labels her and makes her aware she's a "something different." I don't know about strangers: Maybe a small card you can keep in your purse to hand to them: "My daughter is autistic. I hope you'll do your best to accommodate any of our unusual requests due her disability. Thank you." I know that's a lot to go through, but I don't know how to be polite and not advertise it that makes it worse.

    I sure feel for you, though.
    God bless. ~ Bonnie

  11. Oh Cam, I wish I could meet you in person! I'm so sorry you have to deal with this. My son isn't autistic, but I've dealt with this, too. (Why are high chairs such an issue for these waitresses?! Seriously?! Of all the issues to get worked up and complain about, they have to disapprove that we want a high chair?!) My son is 3. He's a fidgeter. He sits ok (just ok; still very fidgety, though) in a booster seat at home, but when I recently tried the booster in a restaurant, mostly because the waitress disapproved of us using two high chairs, the entire chair fell backwards with him in it, and hit his head on the ground, HARD. Thankfully he was fine, but it made me so angry. Why did it have to be a problem that we needed two high chairs? Why is this even an issue? Who really cares what age our kids are when they use a high chair? There's no hard and fast rule as to when a kid is too big for a high fact, there isn't even any kind of rule about it. So why does it have to be an issue at all?!?! Anyway, I know I rambled on, but just know that even though I can't understand exactly what you have gone through, you at least have one person who has also noticed this weird fixation with certain waitresses on our use of high chairs! It's really hard to have to face a disapproving tone, and we know our kids better than anyone else, so WE are the ones who should be making these choices. I send hugs!!

  12. As a former waitress in a "family" restaurant - I want to add another perspective. High chairs in the walkways make it difficult to get around, especially with food and trays in your hands. We don't dislike the children in the chairs, we just dislike the chairs themselves. So, it's always a bummer when people ask for them. I have tripped over the legs of a high chair (especially when Mom pushes the high chair a few inches back to keep the kid from reaching things on the table.) Asking for two high chairs is even more difficult.

    Unfortunately restaurants rarely allow for enough walking space to accommodate lots of high chairs. They want to have as much seating as possible (obvious reasons) so those high chairs really do get treacherous. It's not the kid that we disapprove of. Although, I can see why parents asking for high chairs for older kids would garner a bit of an eye-roll from an exhausted waitress. You are basically asking to take up more floor space than is allowed for, which is not your fault of course.

    So, try not to take it too personally. It's not the child, it's just the situation in most restaurants. On top of that, I doubt every other patron was glaring, although I can see why you'd be sensitive to it. Most diners don't care at all where your kids sit, just as long as they are quiet and well-behaved and don't ruin the meal for others. People may just have been looking since it's unusual to see a family with three tiny kids out to dinner.

  13. Hi Anonymous,

    That doesn't seem to be the case with the set up of this particular restaurant. One high chair was completely clear of the walkways. Mae's was pushed up to the table. We weren't in a booth, so it was pretty much like a chair.

    And this was at Steak and Shake so, it wasn't really weird to see lots of kids there.

    I'm 100% certain that the other diners wouldn't have had a problem at all if the waitress hadn't made a huge,loud deal about it, because they never have in the past and we were getting glares from the moment we sat down. Sorry, I've been in service industries too, Paul works at restaurants and this is just inexcusable.

  14. My experience with our local Steak n' Shake was that they always seemed to have the oddest bunch of servers! Not sure what the deal was, but it was always an uncomfortable experience; haven't been back in years. Maybe it's a company policy. ;)


  15. If it happens again, and you can just as easily eat elsewhere, say, “Well, she had no problem sitting in your high chairs the many other times we’ve been here, but if you’d rather we eat somewhere else, we can certainly patron another establishment.” and leave.

    If it is too inconvenient to go elsewhere, I’d ask to speak to a manager. Even if the woman really thought your daughter wouldn’t fit, she could have easily mentioned her concern without ceremony and simply provided the high chair to see if it would in fact be a problem.


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