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.
Children, who have been diagnosed with autism, tend to display tantrum behavior because they have a hard time communicating their wants and needs. Instead of being able to tell someone what is bothering them, what they want, or how they feel, children on the spectrum act out in ways that are hard for a parent to understand.
Here are some helpful ways to teach your child, who has been diagnosed with autism, how to communicate their ideas, and use appropriate actions in stressful situations.
- Initial reactions to stressful situations can often be very emotional for a child on the spectrum. Establishing a place for your child to go when they are upset can help de-escalate a potential tantrum situation. Giving them the space they need to calm down and take a break might be exactly what they need to regroup. It is also a great idea to teach your child to ask for a break. Respecting them when they say “Excuse me, I need a break” can make a big difference in how they handle a situation. Practice taking breaks in places where there is no quite area. Learning to step away from a situation and count to ten can make a big difference in your child’s behavior.
- Help your child, who has been diagnosed with autism, learn from past situations. Although some situations might not be avoidable, creating strategies’ or routines to relieve stress can be helpful in reoccurring situations that cannot be avoided. Creating lists, providing visuals, coming up with rules or instructions, and role playing, are all ways to help your child learn from past situations.
- Sometimes finding appropriate stress reducers are great ways for your child on the spectrum to manage their frustration or anger. Squeezing a stress ball or bouncing on a trampoline are great examples of ways your child, who has been diagnosed with autism, can manage their stress levels. Teaching your child the best items to use in a stressful or unpleasant situation can prevent them from acting out physically when they are upset.
- Encourage your child, who has been diagnosed with autism, to write about or discuss the things that bother them or specific situations that stress them out. Dig deep into their feelings by inquiring why these specific situations bother them, so that you know how to prevent, avoid, or react when they come up in the future. This is also a great way for your child to think things through. If your child on the spectrum has a hard time communicating with you verbally, ask them to write down what happened, how they felt, and what actions they think they should take to get through each situation and then use these journal entries to role play each situation to educate them on what choices they have when reacting and what consequences come with each reaction they have.
Communicating ideas, feelings, and interests can be extremely difficult for a child on the spectrum, but with the tips above, we hope to make the communication process easier for everyone.