Last week Natty turned 15.
My beautiful, feisty, funny, brave, honest, loving, clever, brilliant, trailblazing warrior turned 15.
And we celebrated with a meal with friends. And there was laughter and games, balloons, pampering and a lot of cake.
And that milestone of a birthday brings with it so many emotions each year. There's joy and gratitude that I have such an amazing young woman in my life. Thankfulness for her continued health, that she is enjoying school and has a fabulous group of friends.
Then there are memories of the day she was born. Wishes that it had unfolded differently, that I had been holding my baby close when her Down's syndrome was identified. There's guilt at my naïve shock in that moment. And memories of coming home without a baby to an empty crib which I insisted be dismantled, as Natty spent her first 3 weeks in Neo-Natal Intensive Care.
It was a time of worry and of ignorance. I had a lot to learn about Trisomy 21. I researched. I Googled. I asked. I read. The learning curve was steep.
And people offered me advice, some of it unsolicited, outdated and unhelpful. Some of it supportive, such as that which came from long-established charities such as The Down's Syndrome Association.
You can watch my TedX Talk about those early wobbly days and the myths that Natty has busted throughout her life here.
Others gave me books to read. I recall one particular 'manual' from the 70s clearly setting out in black and white that it was 'unknown whether individuals with Down's syndrome could be socialised enough to be taken out to restaurants to eat.' I can laugh at that now, but at the time it was deeply shocking.
That one sentence alone, pushed me to make sure Natty was eating (well, feeding) in restaurants from as early as she could be taken to them in a pushchair, papoose or carrier.
So on that 15th anniversary of her arrival into our world, I stopped for a minute to think about how far she has come.
Natty's Top 5 Cornish Gems
|Natty loves a wide range of food. But there's always room for waffles!|
Natty has come so far, that not only is she 'socialised enough to eat in restaurants' (my tongue is firmly in my cheek as I write that), but she has eaten in restaurants across the globe and even has her own list of favourite eateries here in Cornwall. Places that know her as a regular customer.
And aside from the obvious teen faves of MacDonald's and Cabana, (I like to keep things real here on Downs Side Up) they include these independently owned local gems. Check squaremeal* for a great way to book and see what's available in your area:
Roos Beach - For giant hot chocolates by the sea, with a gorgeous bit of lifestyle and clothing window shopping while you sip, this wooden hut style coffee shop at Porth beach is a must. And you can run it all off by jogging along the sand afterwards. Small dogs are welcome too 🐶
Kathmandu Palace - A really relaxed, family run Nepalese restaurant which somehow manages to make you feel as if its your birthday every time you go. Natty loves the authentic chicken dishes, made mild especially for her.
Loading Bay 7 - For the times when it's a proper home made burger or sourdough pizza that Natty's after. I love this place for its spicy Sri Lankan dahl or Lebanese freekeh soup served with a smile.
The Thomas Daniell - Loved by Natty for their chips and the way the food is presented on wooden platters, this gastro pub is run by a warm young team who always make Natty feel like a celebrity when she dines there. And I love that the healthy veggie sides are all locally sourced.
Blend 71 - The owner makes a flat white that will put hairs on your chest. But it's her home made cakes and tray bakes served from her tiny coffee shop that have Natty's eyes on stalks. Everything from stollen cake to jammy dodger melts to nut and seed flapjacks and other temptingly naughty treats. We can't walk past without popping in.
|Natty enjoying an alcohol-free mocktail in one of her favourite restaurants|
Why Eating Out is so Important
- You are supporting local businesses after what has been a debilitating couple of years.
- It's a relatively safe way to meet with friends and family. Stick to the covid-19 safety measures.
- You child will feel valued and included and teach others about their condition.
- Their confidence will be boosted by the treat.
- It's a great way to include the whole family in the conversation around the table.
- Meal times provide a chance to learn about turn-taking and patience.
- You child will learn about social norms and good manners.
- You can all try a variety of new foods you wouldn't make at home.
Our Top Tips for a Successful SEN Meal Out
- Choose a restaurant that is quiet/relaxed/buzzing enough to suit your child's needs. If they like to make a noise, go somewhere with lots of chatter. If they experience sensory overload, choose somewhere quieter.
- Take everything your child needs, such a specialised cups or cutlery, extra wet wipes and even changes of clothing.
- Book ahead and at a time that fits in with your child's routine.
- Check the menu online to make sure that they serve something your child will like.
- Order a sharing platter as a starter, to make sure that hungry tummies don't cause a meltdown.
- Ring ahead if you want to discuss dietary needs, allergies or accessibility.
- Once you find a place that suits your family, there's nothing wrong with sticking to a regular.
So go on, be brave and give it a try. There's much to gain and not a lot to lose.
I hope that one day maybe Natty will end up running her own tea room and in turn help others enjoy magical moments eating out. We'll look forward to hosting you all then 😊
*This post contains a link for which I was compensated for my time.
You might also enjoy reading our tips for parents with a child with a learning disability here.