Making Thanksgiving a Day of Happiness and Enjoyment for Children on the Spectrum

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.