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Giving thanks: Celebrating Thanksgiving with Your Child with Autism

by Amy Kelly, Director of Family & Community Services, Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health


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. As a mother of three children, including my 14-year-old daughter, Annie, who has severe autism, I know what this feels like. 

As a child, Annie wasn’t able to participate and enjoy Thanksgiving in the same way my other children could. But, through the years, we’ve learned to transform the holiday season into something special and exciting for all of us by finding ways to support and include Annie.

Below are a few tips to help enjoy a happy and festive Thanksgiving.

  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 and 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!

Amy Kelly is Director of Family and Community Services at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health. Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health is one of the largest and most advanced behavioral healthcare organizations in the country. Its mission is to changes lives – by unlocking and nurturing human potential for people living with emotional, behavioral or cognitive differences.

 

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