Turkey Day is quickly approaching! Personally, this is one of my all time favorite holidays, however, it could easily become chaotic when hosting a Thanksgiving event involving a child with Autism. Many holidays can lead to sensory overload (for ALL of us) and subsequent meltdowns for a child with autism can readily occur. I’m hopeful that these tips can make this meaningful holiday the best (and calmest) it can be for the entire family!
Your Child Comes First. When we plan our Thanksgiving get together, we look forward to seeing relatives from out of town or having a large family get together, but such celebrations may be difficult for many children with autism. There is a chance that if we do not take certain measures, the otherwise beautiful holiday could end poorly, with both you and your child feeling frustrated at day’s end. Always think about alternatives should your child become overstimulated or anxious. Be flexible. It may be necessary to spend a portion of the day with quiet activities or adjust the length of the event.
Holiday Decor. Be a minimalist when it comes to holiday decorations and furniture rearrangement. The more that your home stays the same, the more your child will continue to feel calm and be able to better tolerate the holiday.
Food. You know what your child likes to eat. Make sure there is food available that your child enjoys. If your child has sensitivities or aversions to certain foods and you aren’t sure what will be available if visiting a family member, pack up some of your child’s favorite foods to take along. Your child will enjoy the event more when favorite foods are available and you, as the parent, will feel better knowing that your child will eat.
Schedule. Make a schedule that depicts what will occur on Thanksgiving. It might be helpful to use pictures, and explain what will take place throughout the day. Important components might involve what time visitors will be arriving (or what time you will be going to a family member’s home), what time the Thanksgiving meal will be, and what time you plan on arriving back home. If your Thanksgiving involves visiting family members you do not see on a regular basis, consider making a booklet with pictures to let your child know who you will be visiting or who will be coming to your home. Ask family members to send you a digital picture if you don’t have any. Use the pictures in the days leading up to Thanksgiving to help your child be more prepared for the big day. Any changes in routine should be placed on the schedule and practiced.
Realistic Expectations. If your child doesn’t sit at the dinner table for long periods of time on a typical day, don’t expect him or her to do so on Thanksgiving. If there are rules that are different than you have enforced in your own home, make sure you talk to your child before the event or practice expectations.
Chill Out Space. If you are having family members visit your home for Thanksgiving, make sure your child’s room is off-limits. Conversely, if you are visiting relatives for Thanksgiving, have a conversation with them beforehand and ask to have a bedroom or other quiet area set aside for your child to escape to if needed. Make sure you bring a few favorite toys or books and when you arrive, spend a few minutes with your child in the room, so he feels comfortable and knows where he can go if feeling overwhelmed.
Most importantly, keep in mind that Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks and appreciating everything we have in our lives. Make sure you give thanks for your children and family not only on Thanksgiving but everyday throughout the year. Enjoy your holiday!