Thanksgiving has become a revered holiday in America that centers around sharing a bountiful meal with family and friends. But for many of our differently abled children and their families, the cacophony and chaos that often unfortunately surround the holiday cause unnecessary stress and strife. For family and friends who may not understand a loved ones need for structure and predictability, or how sensory overload may often produce an unexpected response, there are a few things to do to prepare for and consider.
Talk to your child - Knowing that the day is often filled with unique visitors and adjustments to the normal routine, explain to your child who is coming and what to expect. If there will be a delay in serving the meal while company visits, explain this. Let your child know that there may be food that is new or different at the meal and discuss how he or she might react. If there are food, smell, or texture aversions, have alternate provisions, but let your child know how to decline the serving politely instead of yelling, "OOOH I hate that, " or "That is gross."' for example.
Look at your child's best time of day - Although referred to as dinner, the Thanksgiving feast could take place earlier in the day, such as lunch. And, although there foods such as turkey and stuffing or mashed potatoes and jellied cranberry sauce that almost universally served, there is no harm in allowing other foods at the table.Let your child help decorate or set a timer to be a part of the festivities. And if your child needs a break during the festivities, do not apologize. Simply remind the other family members that breaks are a necessity for your child.
Do not force a child to interact with everyone - Although family members often have the best of intentions, having a comfort level with family that are not seen very often can sometimes be challenging. Have family members include your child, but do not be offended if the exchanges are not prolonged or your child wants to escape back to a familiar activity.
Overlook well-meaning comments such as, "If he were my child, I would...". The fact is, your child is not their child, so it really doesn't matter. Remember that Thanksgiving is only ONE day during the year. It may be better to have more frequent and brief interactions with family and friends than banking on the big ticket Thanksgiving.
Create new traditions that highlight the positive for your child. Have them prepare a reading, a part of the meal, or set the table. Write special social narratives that include or star them as the hero to help prepare them for the day.
Don't set yourself up for failure - Decline invitations that may not fit your family's needs and keep it simple. Many grocery chains and warehouses, for instance, have amazing pies, so it may not be necessary to cook them from scratch. And if there is a meltdown? That's ok too. Have provisions in place to make adjustments as necessary. Sometimes it may be that you have to eat and run in order to keep the meltdowns at bay. And that's ok.
Enjoy your holiday. And your kids. Because like everything else, time is fleeting and memories are precious. Happy Thanksgiving.