All You Can Eat: Building Community by Sharing Meals

What’s the tastiest way to teach community? At a restaurant, of course! Sitting down to eat together makes people feel closer. How can we get the same results in our classrooms?

“Breaking bread together” is a classic way to bolster intimacy: in our culture, we share meals at restaurants to celebrate occasions, socialize with friends, and enjoy time with family. But how does this address the individual needs of students with autism?

This month’s Links routine teaching unit—Eating Out—focuses on the communal experience of grabbing a bite to eat, with resources to support students as they venture out into the world of restaurants.

Here are a few fun ways to build community among students while teaching them the ins and outs of patronizing restaurants.

• Break down complex routines into easily-digestible steps: 

Eating at a Sit-Down Restaurant Visual Strip

The idea of eating out in a restaurant might be overwhelming to your students. Keeping a visual sequence strip on hand can maintain consistency and bolster confidence. Click the image above to download a free visual strip! Tailor sequence strips to individual student learning levels, and use your own photographs to show students familiar faces in novel places.

• Discuss social norms, conflict, and resolution through role-play:

We use role-playing to bolster students’ confidence in social situations. Imaginary play like this is also a valuable strategy to help students with autism practice manners and behavior in public places.

Offer students different restaurant scenarios in which instructors and students play customers and servers. The class can analyze each performance and modify interactions as they progress.

• Bring students together through simulations: 

You don’t have to physically leave campus to give your students a restaurant experience. Create a café in your classroom. Students can simulate eating out at restaurants by using individualized props and social scripts.

Prepare students for life beyond the classroom while strengthening community inside the classroom. Check out this month’s Links routine teaching unit for more ideas.