Toms River restaurant to open space geared toward those with autism

Posted: Updated:

An Ocean County restaurant will soon open a space inside that is geared toward those who have autism.

Riv’s Toms River Hub manager Monica Hmielewski’s 6-year-old son Chase has autism. She says that dining out with her family has always been tough.

"Chase doesn't speak yet so he'll make noises, and we've sat in a restaurant where Chase is talking and there's a table staring,” she says.

Chase is the inspiration behind the effort to create a special space for those with autism inside of Riv’s. It is a sensory-friendly dining room.

"We've created an environment where both parents can sit down and enjoy themselves with their other children and the child…needs a little bit more attention is able to get up, walk around, desensitize and have an area for themselves,” Hmielewski says.

The room will feature different sensory experiences for children on all ends of the autism spectrum.

“We know firsthand all of the situations that we've been in and we're just trying to make it easier for families,” Hmielewski says.

The dining room will also have its own entrance, dimmer lights and soundproof walls.

"We actually tested it out yesterday. We had a band and if you stand in here. You can hear nothing and you are backed up right into the restaurant,” Hmielewski says.

Servers will go through extensive training. The room is set to open in a few weeks.

"These kids, they will relate to each other just like in another restaurant. If a 6-year-old sees another 6-year-old, they'll say ‘Hi,’ where now it's not that they might use their words but they might come and play,” Hmielewski says.

The restaurant also plans to host a variety of events in the room for families.

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