Thanksgiving. For your special needs family, it can be a time of sensory overload and food frenzy. I talked to a few veteran ASD Parents to find out what some of their largest challenges usually are, and what kinds of things they did to make the day as close to wonderful as possible.
Each of these 5 families relayed to me that the very first thing they considered was to avoid the whole day altogether. Then they realized that this was not fair to anyone, and decided to work through the difficulties and find a game plan. Here are some of the best tips they passed along that I think you just might find inspiring as you plan for that day in November.
Janice shares: Plan for Thanksgiving. Then Plan Some More.
This seems to be a special needs parents' mantra. We’re more prepared than girl scouts. If you know that chicken nuggets are a safe food for your child, bring it to the family meal. Even better? Bring several safe foods, because you know that the one day you rely on good old chicken nuggets your child will decide they can only eat macaroni and cheese. Also, bring some activities that you know are always a hit with your child. Bring whatever you use at home as that ‘never fails’ reinforcement to avoid a meltdown. This is not the time to show off how patient you can be. Plan to be tested, and prepare for the test. Bring the blanket, the iPad, the headphones.
Will your family think that you’re moving in? Yes.
Is that better than trying to handle a meltdown in a hothouse full of people? Yes.
Sylvia says her go-to for particularly trying years: Host Thanksgiving at Your Place
This might sound a bit overwhelming a crazy at first, but this veteran mom says that they have people to their house instead of going to other people’s houses whenever possible. In their house, their son has his room, his toys, his coping strategies, and his food all at his fingertips. He doesn’t have to transition to a new place with new sights, smells, and expectations.
This may not make your Thanksgiving easy, but perhaps more manageable. The stress of making a Thanksgiving meal will easily outweigh the stress of transitioning a child with sensory processing disorder or autism into a new place during an overwhelming holiday every time.
John shares his biggest help is: Communicate With Family Before Thanksgiving
We assume that your friends and family know that your child has sensory struggles, but do they really know what that means? Do they know the difference between a spoiled toddler tantrum and a true sensory meltdown? Do they understand why your child may not give hugs and kisses to everyone who comes in? Do they know why they don’t quite make eye contact?
These conversations can be hard, but they need to happen. This doesn’t need to be a big event where you sit everyone down and explain the ins and outs of sensory overload. It can be as simple as “He has a harder time with some things. He doesn’t always know how to answer your questions, and sometimes he needs personal space”.
Everyone can learn to accept disabilities and accommodations if they’re taught to.
No matter how you approach it, manage your family’s expectations. It will save you, and your child, a lot of headaches!
Sue and Ben say: Get Them Rest on Thanksgiving
Can you imagine having Thanksgiving dinner with a four-year-old with sensory struggles that’s been awake since 4 in the morning? During this busy time, and with the time change, this can be what you face on Thanksgiving day. So, before you all trudge out to Grandmother’s house or Aunt Polly’s, let’s go down for an early family naptime. Don’t show up prepared but exhausted. These two things do not go together. And let your child sleep. Don’t wake him up just because you might be late. Showing up late with a rested child is better than the alternative.
Make sure to take rest times during the holidays!
Sarah loves a good story: Holiday Social Stories Rock
We all know that special needs individuals need to know who, what, why, where and when. The holidays can be a time of constant transition and many unexpected breaks in the schedule. Traveling to relatives, school parties, school breaks - these can all cause havoc to your tightly managed daily plans. One tip from a veteran mom is making a good social storybook collection in advance of the upcoming season. You can start with the Harvest School Party and end with New Years Day. She has found this app to be very useful in creating these stories and helping to bring them to life: Social Stories for holiday events: Apps:
And what about you? Do you have some special tips to share?
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