8 Tips for Managing Thanksgiving with Children with Autism

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Thanksgiving, like many holidays, can throw a child with autism into sensory overload.  Visiting relative’s homes, or having a house full of guests along with the constant activity of the day can be hard on anyone, but for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their parents, stress levels can bring on meltdowns. The following tips may help make your day a little easier and calmer:


    Keep  your child’s needs in mind when planning your day. You may be looking forward to seeing relatives from out of town or having a large family get together, but if this type of celebration is going to be hard for your child, there is a chance it will end in disaster, with both you and your child feeling frustrated and angry by the end. Think about alternatives or at least spending a portion of the day with quiet activities or make visits short.

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    Make sure there is food your child will eat. If your child has sensitivities or aversions to certain foods and you aren’t sure what, if anything, he will eat from the Thanksgiving feast, bring along his favorite foods. He will feel better knowing that his favorite foods are available and you will feel better knowing he is going to eat.


    Make sure your child has a get-away space. If you are having friends and relatives come to your home, make sure your child’s room is off-limits. If you are visiting relatives, talk to your relative beforehand about having a bedroom set aside for your child to escape to, if needed. 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.


    Provide a schedule for your child. If needed, use pictures, and explain the general timeline – what time guests will be coming (or you will be leaving to go to a relative’s house), what time dinner is, what time you plan on arriving at home. Explain any changes in routine ahead of time.


    If visiting relatives you don’t see on a regular basis, make a booklet with pictures to let your child know who you will be visiting, who will be there or who will be coming to your home. Ask relatives 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 meeting relatives.


    Talk about expectations during Thanksgiving dinner. If you expect your child to remain at the table throughout the dinner and ask to be excused, let him know ahead of time. If there are other rules that are different than in your home, make sure you talk to your child before arriving.


    When entertaining in your home, keep changes to décor to a minimum. Rearrange furniture only if needed and use a few holiday decorations. The more that stays the same, the more your child will feel secure in their environment.


    For relatives that don’t understand autism or don’t see your child often, talk beforehand about some of the odder behaviors your child may exhibit. This prevents them from being alarmed or taken aback in the middle of the festivities.


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    Finally, remember that Thanksgiving is a time for appreciation and giving thanks for all we have in our lives. Take the time to remind your child why you are thankful for him or her.

Published On: November 14, 2012