ABA therapy

ABA Therapy Tips for Thanksgiving for Your Child on the Autism Spectrum

Those of us who work in the ABA therapy field with children on the autism spectrum know that holidays present some special challenges.

Children on the spectrum tend to thrive on sameness and routine. Holidays – new food, new people, new sounds, new routines, new places, traffic congestion – can be wonderful experiences, but they can take children with autism far outside of their comfort zones. This can cause them to become overwhelmed, stressed and even spur meltdowns.

To ensure the holiday festivities go as smoothly as possible, our ABA therapy team complied a few ideas for tips to reduce anxiety and head off a possible crisis.

Choose Comfortable Clothing 

Lots of folks make a tradition of dressing up for Thanksgiving festivities. If your child is on the autism spectrum or has some sensory aversions, consider allowing them to dress in a way they will be most comfortable. Doing so may allow them to be more prepared to take on other challenges of the day.

Show Up Early

If you aren’t the one hosting this year’s Thanksgiving gathering, you may speak to your host about arriving a bit earlier than other guests. Our ABA therapy sessions are designed to prepare children for real-world situations like this, but they may have an easier time getting acclimated to their surroundings if they have a chance to explore while the atmosphere is still calmer and quieter.

They’ll be able to ease into the crowd as they arrive.

Speaking of Noise…

Even if you leave politics at the door, Thanksgiving gatherings can get loud fast. If you anticipate noise will be a real problem, approach your host ahead of time to ask if there is a quiet spot to which your child can escape to if the decibel level becomes too much.

If you don’t think this will be a possibility, you might consider planning a walk or bringing noise-canceling headphones or earplugs or even hosting activities in your own space – where you know your child will have a safe, quiet space to get away.

Keep Your Child Informed

Many children with autism do best with structure – or at least, as much preparation as possible. Thanksgiving (and many other holidays) can be packed with new activities.

Get your child on the same page. Make them part of the activity planning if possible. Let them choose a favorite toy, book, game to bring or have handy. Key them in on where you’re going, who will be there, what you’ll be doing and anything else that’s relevant to help them feel more in control and at-ease.

About the Food… 

What is Thanksgiving without the feast? But there can be several challenges for children on the autism spectrum.

For starters, there is the fact that turkey and cranberries may be worlds away from your child’s daily fare. Many children on the spectrum struggle with sensory issues that can make mealtimes a battle even on a typical day. Although it might be considered rude to bring your own food, you may want to tip off your host to your child’s dietary concerns, whether they offer to accommodate or know why you’ve brought a separate meal for your child.

Another potential issue for some kids is gorging themselves. Thanksgiving offers the opportunity to eat to excess, but you don’t want an over-excited child to make themselves sick. You might avoid this by plating their food in the kitchen (rather than the table). This can also help reduce the sensory distractions on the table.

Prepare/Prompt Your Hosts/Guests

If you have ideas about areas of interest for your child or things they have in common, don’t hesitate to speak up and encourage those connections! Your child wants to be a part of the tradition as much as anyone else, and a simple suggestion could help your loved ones push past any awkwardness to spur a conversation and forge a connection.

Relax – and Be Thankful 

At the end of the day, Thanksgiving is about being thankful for the family we have. We teach children in ABA therapy to be prepared for and reasonably cope with situations that are overwhelming. That task becomes much easier if you as the parent are flexible and forgiving (with yourself as much as your child), accepting that your traditions don’t have to reflect everyone else’s. (Is the day really any less enjoyable if they’re wearing a tracksuit and eating peanut butter & jelly?)

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – is a pediatric therapy center providing ABA therapy to children Northeast Ohio. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email. Serving Brecksville, Akron, Cleveland and surrounding communities in Northeast Ohio.

Additional Resources:

Autism and the holidays: How to cope with the feasting and hubbub, Nov. 14, 2017, Autism Speaks

More Blog Entries:

Should We Provide Akron Autism Treatment Before a Diagnosis?, July 21, 2019, Akron ABA Therapy Blog