Autism Eats draws more than 30 guests and positive feedback

Guests eat during a sensory friendly dining experience hosted by MMI and Autism Eats.

Guests eat during a sensory friendly dining experience hosted by MMI and Autism Eats.

Bright surroundings, noises, activity, even unfamiliar food – all can present a challenge for individuals on the autism spectrum.

In an effort to overcome this challenge, the Munroe-Meyer Institute joined with national organization Autism Eats to present a low-key, sensory friendly dining experience for several autism families, who also had a chance to make social connections, during Nebraska’s first Autism Eats event.

Held on May 14 at Pizza West in La Vista, the event drew 35 attendees. Families ate in a private dining room where lights were dimmed, music was turned off and doors were able to close.

Guests enjoyed a pre-paid buffet with pizza, chicken tenders, fries, cookies and soda.

The event was organized by Georgia Ryba, respite care associate at the Munroe-Meyer Institute, and Autism Eats, a Boston-based national organization that helps families find what it calls “non-judgmental environments” for dining, socializing and connecting.

The event gave caregivers a break from cooking and cleaning up, Ryba said. “But most importantly, this event gave caregivers a break from judgment.” It also gave families a chance to dine out and connect with one another.

The event also included guests from the Omaha Police Department, face painting, balloons and fidget toys.

Initial feedback was positive, Ryba said. More comments will be collected in a post-event survey.

Lenard Zohn, Autism Eats founder, said planning has begun for a second event. He encouraged those interested to visit AutismEats.org for questions or to join the invitation list.  

“It was a fantastic experience to work with UNMC to bring Autism Eats to Omaha,” Zohn said. “The support from the autism community was tremendous and confirmed the need for autism families to be able to enjoy a ‘typical’ night out in the company of others who ‘get it.’”