5 Ways to Practice Thanksgiving with Your Special Needs Child

Therapies and Resources for Children with Autism & Families

All of the commotion around Thanksgiving can seem exciting to your family and yet overwhelming to a child with special needs.  This can be especially true for children with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, as changes in schedule and people can be difficult to process.  Here are five ways to practice Thanksgiving so that your entire family can have a great time:

  1. Practice sitting at the table with plates, lighting and music.  Taking the time to set up the table the way that it will look on Thanksgiving can help a child with special needs to understand that while Thanksgiving is a special meal, it is still a family meal, much like they have on a regular basis.  Using the same plates and playing soft music will allow kids to absorb all of the changes and process it slowly if they feel too overwhelmed.
  1. Try holiday foods in advance.  Making small amounts of the food that a child may see on Thanksgiving as part of regular meals will help them to discover what tastes good to them and what does not.  Strongly flavored foods that kids aren’t used to may be too much when served all together.  Giving them a chance to try ahead of time promotes a feeling of control and ease.
  1. Prepare a kit with toys and activities.  If you are traveling for Thanksgiving, plan on packing a toy kit that can provide stimulation and a way to decompress.  From favorite stuffed animals to art supplies and tactile toys, having those familiar items handy can make all of the difference.
  1. Do a countdown!  By using a visual calendar before Thanksgiving, you can help your child to see when the “big day” will arrive.  This can help them to build up a healthy level of excitement instead of feeling anxious and stressed.
  1. Talk about the holiday.  There are plenty of opportunities to discuss the holiday and read books about it.  This type of exposure can make it seem safe and easy to manage.  As your therapist for help with discussing this issue with your child or for resources to use.

Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a stressful day for your child.  By packing favorite toys, talking about it and trying new foods ahead of time, Thanksgiving can be a great memory for your family to cherish.