Subscribe now and recieve 50% off all our ebooks as well as updates on all our online special needs resources.
Becca Eisenberg
BY Becca Eisenberg

5 Ways to Elicit Language at a Restaurant with a Child with Special Needs

Visiting a restaurant with a child with special needs can be fun but challenging experience. Why not take the experience and make it an enriched language time? Here are several tips and resources to help make it “language time” the next time you visit a restaurant for a meal with your child.

Before you visit the restaurant

If possible, give your child the ability to choose what restaurant they would like to visit. Show your child a visual of each restaurant so they know which restaurant you are talking about (use Google images or take the photo yourself). Create a choice board using Connect Ability or Boardmaker. Try to keep your options to two or three restaurants. With fewer choices, it will be easier to decide.

Here are five ways to make your dining experience easier and incorporate some easy and enriching language tips.

At the restaurant

1. Expanding Language

Visiting a restaurant is a natural environment to expand your child’s vocabulary. When you walk into the restaurant, tell your child the name of the restaurant and what type of food they serve there. The menu alone can be an ideal tool to expand vocabulary. Discussing different foods and drinks can be a valuable experience.

Another ideal way to expand language is to read picture books at the table (if your child is older, you can bring short chapter books or an interesting article they might want to discuss). I will often bring 3-4 picture books with me to a restaurant. Some recommended titles for picture books are Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Secret Pizza Party, and How Did That Get in My Lunchbox?.

2. Social Skills

Dining in a restaurant is a natural time to work on initiating, maintaining and taking turns in conversation. Print out some conversation cards here. These cards make it easy to begin a conversation and can be a great way for your child to initiate a discussion with you. Work on conversation while you are waiting for the food, which I always find to be the most difficult time.

3. Sequencing

Visiting a restaurant is also a natural way to work on sequencing. Create a social story about visiting a restaurant or use a schedule board. Using visual supports can not only be helpful, but they also facilitate language. Use a schedule board such as this one: Restaurant Schedule Board. Review the steps with your child. First we walk in the restaurant, then we look at the menu, etc.

4. Literacy

Using the menu and other visuals around the restaurant can be a great time to work on literacy and sight word awareness. Use the bingo board here: Sight Word Restaurant Board (2) to spot some sight words that you might see in a restaurant. If your child is not literate, model the words and then show them. You can also create a bingo board with a picture and the word to help teach your child new sight words.

5. Describing

Ask your child to describe the restaurant to you. Is it noisy or quiet? Is it dark or light? Is the food delicious or yucky? Are the fries soggy or crunchy? Model the language yourself. For example, when you get your water, you might say. “Wow, this water is so cold with all of these ice cubes.” What does your water taste like?”

Bonus Bingo! Use this bingo board during your restaurant experience. It will help meet your language goals written above: Restaurant Bingo Board

I hope you find these tips helpful. Please comment with your own!

Mayer Johnson
2100 Wharton Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15203
Phone: 1 800 588 4548
Fax: 1 866 585 6260
Email: [email protected]


Becca Eisenberg

Written on May 7, 2014 by:

Becca Eisenberg, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist, author, instructor, and parent of two young children, who began her blog to create a resource for parents to help make mealtime an enriched learning experience. She discusses the benefits of reading to young children during mealtime, shares recipes with language tips and carryover activities, reviews children’s books for typical children and those with special needs as well as educational apps. She has worked for many years with both children and adults with developmental disabilities in a variety of settings including schools, day habilitation programs, home care and clinics. She can be reached at [email protected]