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Autism Eats designs Riverview dining event for families

Boston’s Lenard Zohn, shown with his son Aidin, started Autism Eats to help children with autism and their parents enjoy an evening of dining. The effort comes to Riverview on Monday, Aug. 29. Photo courtesy of Lenard Zohn
Published Aug. 26, 2016

RIVERVIEW — As a parent with an autistic child, Emily Grime says dining out can sometimes pose a challenge.

She feels as though families in similar situations have an idea of what works and what doesn't work, and she longs to connect with families going through similar situations.

Grime will get that chance Monday at the area's first Autism Eats from 6 to 8 p.m. at East Coast Pizza, 13340 Lincoln Road.

With a 2-year-old daughter who doctors diagnosed with autism, Grime hopes families with more experience can assist with advice and resources.

"Through hearing and learning about the experiences of others, it might provide me with an idea I did not think of," Grime said.

Autism Eats aims to give these families an opportunity to enjoy restaurant dinners without the stress that often accompanies such outings. It provides a nonjudgmental, buffet-style dinner for families with autistic children.

Co-founder Lenard Zohn and his wife developed the organization in Massachusetts in 2014, bringing it about because their 11-year-old son Adin has autism.

Zohn said his son's behavior made it kind of difficult to dine out. Sometimes Adin would start screaming or become fidgety if he became bored from waiting too long at the restaurant. Also, Adin's favorite food of choice would be pizza. Unfortunately, he assumed every restaurant served pizza, which led to problems.

"There would be times when people at other tables looked at us and after a while, the enjoyment got outweighed by the distraction," Zohn said.

The Community Roundtable will also serve as a co-sponsor of Monday's event at East Coast Pizza.

"This will be a great opportunity for the parents and children to get a night out," said Janine Nickerson, Community Roundtable president.

Several steps will be taken to facilitate a smooth evening. The Autism Eats dinner will be held in a private room of the restaurant. Tables will be set up for families to congregate and consume a meal together. Autism Eats takes payment in advance so families do not need to worry about waiting for a check. A variety of foods will be available for both adults and children upon their arrival. Children who are on special diets will be able to bring their own food.

"I hope the community sees this as an opportunity to support the children in this community and their families who live with the challenges autism presents," said Aaron Fredricks, owner of East Coast Pizza.

Currently, the Autism Eats organization can be found in five states. By the end of 2016, it expects to be in 26 states and in the process of obtaining official nonprofit status.

Zohn believes these events can help people better understand children with autism.

"Just be patient and kind when meeting someone with autism because they may find it difficult to interact," Zohn said.

Contact Tatiana Ortiz at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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