Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday that presents a great opportunity to gather with cherished friends and family and enjoy a delicious meal together. It also ends up being a source of stress for many people for different reasons. If you have a child with behavioral issues, you likely know some of the complications that can come up during family gatherings due to your child’s needs. Since Thanksgiving tends to be an all-day affair for many families, it takes some extra preparation to get through the day smoothly.
Traveling for Thanksgiving
Hitting the road or taking a flight to visit relatives or close friends for Thanksgiving is quite common. If traveling is part of your Thanksgiving plans, you will likely need to take some extra steps to make sure your child with autism makes it through smoothly. Communication with your hosts is key; coordinate with your hosts so they know to include autism-friendly Thanksgiving recipes for your child, or so that you know what food items you will need to bring yourself. There should also be an understanding with your hosts that your child will benefit from having a quiet room filled with games and activities that they can escape to if they begin to feel overwhelmed during the day. Bring along practical items they are familiar with and their favorite activities and try to keep their daily schedule intact as much as possible.
When it comes to the process of traveling, catch a flight on an autism-friendly airline to help make long-distance traveling go smoothly. If your plan is to go on a road trip, bring along some inexpensive toys and something like an iPad that your child can stay focused on to make the drive a breeze. In any case, preparing your child in advance through the use of social stories and using rewards during your travels will go a long way in making your trip a success.
While simply having Thanksgiving dinner at your own home may seem like less stress than traveling, there are some trade-offs. The biggest advantage is that your child will be in an environment they are familiar with and it will be far easier to control the schedule of the day to best match their daily routine. They also have their own room with all of their favorite activities present that will be easy to retreat to if they start to experience sensory overload.
On the other hand, hosting Thanksgiving often comes with some added pressure of cooking and accommodating your guests, which will certainly throw off the routine you are trying to keep up. If possible, ask if your guests can arrive early to help cook the Thanksgiving feast together with you so you can divert more of your attention to your child throughout the day. And of course, you should communicate with your guests thoroughly beforehand about some of the specifics of your child’s needs, such as their comfort level with affection or their verbal abilities. Again, using social stories for Thanksgiving will be very helpful in preparing your child for the day while giving them opportunities to grow and learn.