For many, Thanksgiving means hours of cooking, eating tons of comfort foods, cheering for a favorite football team, catching up with family and endless kisses from grandma. But for children with autism and their families, it can mean amplified stimuli, overwhelming newness and extra sources of anxiety.
At Hopebridge, we want holidays – and all days – to be fun for our kiddos. To help cope with excitement and make Thanksgiving a special day, here are some tips we hope will make the day a little easier for the whole family.
- Talk to your kiddo about Thanksgiving.
Use this time to teach about the holiday – the history, traditions and how we celebrate it today. Make it fun with a story or consider a countdown calendar.
- If planning to go somewhere outside your home, talk to the host in advance.
Discuss potential sensory challenges, how they can affect kids with autism, and how to minimize them, along with other potential situations that might be new for the host. Consider all senses (think extra lights, loud conversations, cinnamon-scented décor, new foods, and uncles who constantly pat on the back).
- Practice meal-time behaviors with your kiddo.
Explain what to expect and make learning table manners fun. Some people on the autism spectrum can eat too quickly, especially when excited. Use the skills learned at Hopebridge to focus on appropriate portions and slow down eating.
- Together, pre-determine a signal he or she can use to tell you when a break is needed.
Set up a semi-private space where your kiddo can play independently on Thanksgiving if any part of the day becomes a bit too overwhelming.
- Have some of your kiddo’s favorite food on hand for comfort.
Many families have picky eaters and their own Thanksgiving Day favorites. Create your own traditions by letting your kiddo choose a dish…it’s ok if it’s not part of the typical Thanksgiving menu!
- Prepare for the big day by hosting a practice run (or several).
While it’s impossible to account for everything, it can be beneficial to introduce some of the day’s festivities in advance to help him or her get acclimated before the big day. Go through family photographs to reintroduce your kiddo to anyone who may be unfamiliar.
- Don’t feel obligated to do anything.
If any part of the holiday seems too stressful, don’t feel pressured to make everything perfect. Just because everyone else is dressing up, doesn’t mean your kiddo has to do the same. Wearing a pilgrim hat at the dinner table isn’t required either. And it’s also ok to skip the big family party and have a quiet but special evening at home, if you prefer.