Tips for Celebrating Thanksgiving with a Child with Autism



Thanksgiving is a time to gather with family and friends and to give thanks for the many gifts we experience in our lives every day. While it’s a wonderful and meaningful tradition, it can be an emotional obstacle course for families of children and adolescents with special needs. Here are a few tips from Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health in Villanova, PA on how to transform the holiday season into something special, exciting and supportive for everyone.

1. Prepare: Before making a trip to celebrate with family, or having family at your house, take time to prepare your child for the upcoming journey or family gathering. Using short, descriptive sentences. Pictures from prior years can be a big help.

2. Maintain routine as much as possible: It can be difficult to maintain a routine during family gatherings, but upholding some elements of your child’s routine can be helpful for everyone. Eat dinner at your usual time. And bring activities, games and devices that will bring your child comfort.

3. Make a quiet space: We all know how stressful big gatherings can be. But when children have extra needs, it can be even more overwhelming for them. Be sure to have a soothing and quiet place for them to rest and have peace if they need to take a break from social activity. Earplugs or headphones can work wonders, too!

4. Make your own traditions: Thanksgiving traditions – like serving turkey or watching football – work for many families, but that doesn’t mean they have to work for your family. Consider your child’s unique needs and likes to establish new traditions that work for your whole family, such as serving a favorite dish or everyone wearing comfortable clothes instead of dressing up. Talk about these things ahead of time using social stories or pictures from last year’s gathering to remind your child about the neat clothing worn, that special food you ate or who may be coming this year from last year’s celebration.

5. Express gratitude: Thanksgiving is all about being grateful. Try and remember all of the good things you’ve experienced as a family – no matter how small. The small moments are actually the BIG moments that we remember throughout our lifetime, and these moments and memories are what make our families truly special!

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