Thanksgiving is a time so many of us wait all year to come back around. It’s a time of family, incredible food, and the official start to the holiday season. Yet, as a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, you know any exciting and different time of the year can also be one of the most challenging. It’s a break in routine, new situations and people, and lots of overstimulation.
With that in mind, below are ways you can prepare with your child over this month so Thanksgiving weekend can be as relaxing and satisfying as possible.
1. Teach Your Child About the Holiday
Step one should be explaining what Thanksgiving looks like, how your family celebrates it, and why the celebration takes place. The more information a child has entering a new situation, the more confident they will be.
Explain how the day will look different from a typical weekday. Using visuals, like a schedule with simple drawings, will allow your child with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) to process the information more easily. Show photographs of the people in attendance, and let them know where you will be going and what you will do when you arrive.
For many children, the “why” is important: Why is this day causing so many changes? You can share the history of Thanksgiving, talk about what their teachers have said in school, or simply stay focused on the traditions in your particular family.
Amongst all of the focus on what to expect, tie the familiar in whenever possible. Will a grandma they see often be there? Will they be sitting next to you like they do every other night? This way, the event won’t seem as overwhelming.
2. Use Role-Playing or Social Stories
Following the explanation, delve in with role-playing or by creating a social story to practice for the day. There are many expectations that come along with a holiday like this one, so it is important to communicate those expectations and fully prepare your child for them.
As you set up a social story or consider what to play out, think about:
- how your family greets each other
- what table manners are expected
- which foods are served
- how the food is served: family-style or buffet-style
- where everyone will sit
- when the meal will be served
As you engage in role-playing or writing out a social story, be informative but have fun. That way, they are more likely to enter Thanksgiving more prepared and more positive.
3. Set Up The Environment
If you are traveling on Thanksgiving, whether across the country or across town, taking some steps to prepare the environment to meet your child’s needs can go a long way.
Consider bringing some of your child’s favorite items, like a toy, book, or other treasure, so the child will feel more at home. Added bonus: it will give your child something to talk about with another guest. A calming toy, such as a stress ball or sensory brush, can be an easy item to keep at the table or in your bag for any more difficult moments.
If possible, try to arrive on the earlier side, when fewer guests are there. That way your child has time to become familiar with the environment prior to any overstimulation that comes with a crowd of people. During that time, make a plan for any necessary breaks. Choose a location that can serve as a safe place to escape the chaos.
4. Bring a Favorite Food
If your child has a limited number of foods they eat, taking them to a holiday focused on a meal can be frustrating. However, Thanksgiving, with all of its newness in the everyday routine, is a very hard time to take risks with food. Go in prepared that your child might eat only what you thought they would eat, and, if your child eats more than a roll this year, call it a win.
Offering to bring a side dish you know your child is familiar with and likes at home can be a way to include your child in the meal and make sure they are nutritionally satisfied. Another solution is packing a favorite food just for them. That way, your child will not leave the meal hungry and less equipped to handle all of the holiday overwhelm.
5. Do What Works for Your Family
If a large family party seems a little too stressful this year, give yourself permission to hold the Thanksgiving meal you actually want. If it’s just a simple meal at home, a weekend getaway, or a smaller group, any way you choose to celebrate is the right way.
Our expert BCBA’s and RBT’s are well-versed in helping to prepare your child for shifts in routine and how to handle themselves in new situations. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support and guidance.
Reach out today and speak with one of our enrollment specialists to get started with Springtide