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Italian restaurant aiming for Autism Friendly award

A restaurant in Manchester has become a hit with parents of children with autism and other conditions after adapting its menu, and staff plan to make the eating experience even more enjoyable for families.

The San Rocco Italian restaurant in Ashton-under-Lyne is now working towards being recognised by the National Autistic Society by becoming recognised as “Autism Friendly”.

It hit headlines earlier this year when its pictoral menu, designed for non-verbal autistic children, allowed families to come and choose food without guessing when their children wanted.

A fundraiser at San Rocco, an autism friendly restaurant

Now manager Mark Waine wants to photograph the food to add to the menus, so children can see exactly what they will be getting when they order. He also plans to photograph staff so autistic diners can see who might serve them when they come for a meal. 

Mark said San Rocco’s website has photographs of the inside and outside of the restaurant, which helps children picture where they’ll be going for a meal.

Mark said, “I have children myself and of course everyone needs to go out sometimes. My children make noise too! Our autistic customers sometimes make noise but it doesn’t mean their families should have to stay in all the time. It’s not a big deal for us.” 

Two parents who have championed the restaurant are Nicola and Lee Sweeney, whose eight-year-old son has autism and learning difficulties. Lee said, “After feeling that we were not wanted at restaurants in the past, we stumbled on San Rocco. From the moment we walked in we knew how understanding and how accepting the staff were of people with disabilities.

“After being customers there for sometime, Mark approached us with his idea of making a picture menu for children and adults with autism and learning difficulties.

“We were overwhelmed with the idea. Mark enlisted the help of a speech and language therapist and now the menu is helping many others like our son. Mark is now working with a teacher from the special needs school that our son goes to and is working towards the Autism Friendly Award – it’s amazing.”

As well as developing the menu, Mark said the staff will ask if a family would like to have the lights dimmed in the are they are eating, or if they need to sit at a particular table. There are fully accessible toilets too.

Picture menu at San Rocco, an autism friendly restaurant

San Rocco was also involved in raising money for the Autistic Society at its summertime ball in June, and staff have supported children with GM1 disorder – a genetic condition which destroys nerve cells. 

For more information on autism-friendly restaurant San Rocco, see the website.

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