How is waiting experienced by people with autism?

How did the person with autism wait? And if the restaurant service times are too slow and the order is slow to arrive? We’ll talk with Camilla Del Balzo and Laura Antonelli, founding partners of Be & Able research and learning center.

Article by Daniela Orlandi


One of the traits that often unites people with autism, children or adults, is their attachment to the routine, so even a slight change can be a factor of stress or disturbance. It seems clear that sometimes this can be an obstacle when you decide to go on vacation, escaping the reassuring course of everyday life.

What can be done, in practice, by those involved in tourist reception services to put the person with autism and his family at ease by reducing the possibility of critical situations occurring?

We talk about it with Camilla Del Balzo and Laura Antonelli, founding partners of the research and learning center of Be & Able, who for years has been assisting autistic children and their families in Rome.


Why did you choose to deal with us the topic of waiting at the table?

The moment when you are at the table is probably one of the most cheerful and convivial moments of the holiday, but when traveling with an autistic boy, it can become a difficult time to manage.

When you are in a hotel restaurant you are in a new environment, full of noise and smells but also in a place where, between the times for ordering the waiter and those of the preparation of the dishes, the wait can be quite long.

For a person with autism this situation can become a stress factor, with a discomfort that tends to grow with the prolongation of waiting and which can lead to a crisis situation. As a consequence of this situation, the family could be forced to leave the room and give up the dinner.


Why can waiting become a source of stress?

The wait, for the person with autism, is often assimilated to a condition of uncertainty with respect to what will happen then. Will the food arrive? Will it be the shape and color that I expect? All these questions can become even more pressing in a new environment characterized by intense smells and loud noises, such as the restaurant.


What can the hotelier do to try to reduce this inconvenience?

Definitely reduce waiting time and, therefore, stay in the restaurant is essential. A possible strategy to meet the needs of the person with autism, is to allow the family to order dinner well in advance, even directly from the room, agreeing with the restaurant the time when the meal should be ready. At the agreed time, it will be the duty of the room manager to call the family to warn them that dinner is ready. In this way, when the family enters the restaurant, the dishes on the table will already be served and all you have to do is sit back and eat.


Are there any other measures that could be adopted?

It would be important to show at the time of ordering a picture of the dishes, as realistic as possible, through which the person can analyze the color of food or the quantity and size of the various elements that make up the dish. In fact, sometimes, the choice regarding food is not guided simply by the taste of the dishes, but also and above all by the shape and color. If it were not possible to translate the entire menu into images, it would be enough to propose a targeted choice of dishes that differ in type, color and size (long pasta and short pasta, pasta in white and sauce, etc.). It is also important that the image shown is as realistic as possible because an untrustworthy photo could lead to false expectations and prove counterproductive.


Do you want to add more?

Yes, when you have a guest with autism it would be important to place his table in a quiet area of ​​the room, but not secluded, avoiding placing the person near noisy tables or the kitchen where the noises and smells could be more intense and annoying . Finally, it would be important to try to prioritize the orders and demands of the person with autism and their family members, even giving them priority over previous orders, in order to reduce as much as possible both the wait and the stay in a place generally chaotic and noisy as it could be the restaurant of a hotel.