The holidays represent an extreme departure from the norm, and Thanksgiving is no exception. Between the hubbub of family, seemingly limitless amounts of food, and a meal served much earlier than the typical dinner, Thanksgiving may spark anxiety for your child with autism. To help you make the day go smoothly, we’ve gathered a few tips to make this Thanksgiving day your best yet.
Review The Day’s Activities
Kids with autism love structure, but Thanksgiving is full of new activities. To prepare your child for the day’s events, review your plan with them early and often. Make sure to include where you are going, what you’ll be doing there, who will be in attendance, and any other abnormalities your child should be aware of.
Instead of having your child dress up in a new or fancy outfit, allow them to dress comfortably. Since the day will already be so different, allowing your child to wear something familiar and comfortable can help them handle the day’s festivities.
Plan For the Noise
Between the banging of pots and pans, clinking of silverware, the TV blaring in the background, and multiple conversations happening simultaneously, Thanksgiving can get very loud very quickly. Consider asking your family and friends in advance to keep noise down to an appropriate level and providing your child with noise-canceling headphones in case it becomes too noisy.
Create A Quiet Space
Sometimes, the ruckus of Thanksgiving may just be too much for your child. Before the festivities begin, create a designated quiet space your child can retreat to if the day becomes overwhelming. Help your child relax by placing some favorite toys, books, or other independent activities in the area.
If you’re going to a family or friend’s house to celebrate, ask to arrive early. Getting there before the rest of the party will help your child acclimate to a new setting in a calmer environment, and they’ll be able to ease into the day once the crowd arrives.
Limit Food Portions
Thanksgiving is a difficult time for any of us to practice moderation, and for some children with autism, it can be extremely difficult to avoid gorging. Help over-excited eaters slow down by giving them smaller portions and plating food in the kitchen rather than piling the table with dishes. Removing the food from the table will not only stop your child from grabbing and impulse eating, but it can also reduce the amount of sensory distractions at the table.
Bring Something You Know Your Child Will Eat
The traditional turkey, cranberries, and stuffing may be a far cry from what your child normally eats for dinner. If your child has difficulties with new foods or textures, bring a backup meal you know they’ll eat. If you’ll need to make the meal once you arrive, let your host know ahead of time so they can prepare.
Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for the people you treasure, and not every family’s traditions have to look the same. Be flexible with yourself and your child, and choose your battles. If your child would rather wear sweatpants and eat a PB&J rather than stuffy formal wear and the traditional turkey dinner, that’s okay. Thanksgiving is what you make of it, and your celebration doesn’t have to match the stereotypical Turkey Day traditions.