With Thanksgiving less than a week away, most people are getting excited to celebrate all they are thankful for, but for some, the holidays can be an overwhelming experience. Many children on the spectrum may experience sensory overload from all of the day’s activities and the large number of family and friends that will gather together. Some may also have dietary restrictions or be sensitive to smell, and since food is the central focus of the holiday, this can present a challenge as well.
The first step to preparing them for the holiday is to set their expectations. Whether you are going to a friend’s or relative’s house or people are coming to your house, communicate with your child what will be happening so they know what to expect. It is also great to give them some responsibility on that day, if you are cooking, let them help you, or if you are going to someone else’s home, ask if you can bring a dish you know your child enjoys, and have them be responsible for carrying it in and hand it to the host. That way you know your child’s dietary needs will be met and at the same time, they are engaging with others, which will give them confidence at the start of the event. Having or bringing a child friendly activity is also a great way to keep your child engaged.
It is also very important to set boundaries and rules prior to your thanksgiving dinner. Be sure to go over their bed times, the importance of good manners and other rules you may have at home. If you are going to someone else’s home, or if your dinner will start earlier or run later then your regular dinner time, make sure to communicate with your child that this is a special occasion and that there will be changes to their regular routine.
Since Thanksgiving only comes around one a year, the sudden changes in your child’s routine can be confusing to them. Remember to be patient while they are processing these changes and be sensitive to their needs. Thanksgiving does not have to be a struggle for yourself or your child; instead, it should be a day of happiness and enjoyment.
A tragedy occurred in Oregon recently when Jillian McCabe committed murder by throwing her severely autistic son London off of Oregon’s Yaquina Bay from a 246-foot-tall bridge while suffering a mental breakdown. (for more on this tragic story go to: http://www.popsugar.com/moms/Oregon-Mother-Throws-Autistic-Son-Off-Bridge-36050753
This isn’t the first time a parent has been accused of, or charged with abuse or murder of their autistic child. Parents often find themselves on the verge of a breakdown when dealing with the day to day care of a child with autism. They feel helpless, frustrated, alone, and at the end of their rope. When it comes to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, parents need to remember that there is a lot of help out there for them.
The parents of a child with autism have many options when looking for the right care for their child. Your child’s physician will be able to guide you in the right direction to get your child the help they need. Many times the physician will recommend Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) which integrates proven scientific therapies in order to reduce maladaptive behaviors and improve appropriate behaviors, communication skills, social skills and coping mechanisms. With ABA therapy you will also receive parent training from knowledgeable behavioral specialists who will teach parents proper ways of communicating with their child. This process will help the parent understand their child’s wants and needs; and in turn will decrease tantrums, escape behaviors and other maladaptive behaviors. Once parents learn to understand the ways in which their child communicates, the entire family’s quality of life will improve.
Sometimes a parent needs more personal support, in which case they can see a therapist to work out deeper fears, frustrations, or concerns. They can also join a support group for parents with children that have been diagnosed with autism. Sometimes belonging to a group with other parents who are going through the same thing can help someone accept and better handle the situations and problems they face at home. Beautiful Minds Center has an extensive list of great resources for parents and kids with autism on their website resource page (http://www.beautifulmindscenterforautism.com/resources/)
In the end, it’s important to know that there is both help and support out there. There are ways to go about healing yourself without harming your child. No matter what issues your child may have, it is important to remember that they are a part of you and that your love for them should propel you to do anything in your power to help them, not harm them. Choose acceptance over abuse!