Does your family have a Thanksgiving story that is (a) embarrassing, (b) infuriating, (c) eye-rolling, or (d) sort of funny (but not when it happened)? Most of us do! The main features of this heartwarming holiday are big quantities of unusual foods served in a multi-stimulus environment, with a massive change in your family’s daily routine that includes navigating the social expectations of friends and relatives. What could go wrong?
Funny, But Not When It Happened…
There was the year somebody insisted that six-year-old David try the carrots. He went ballistic AND vomited (under the table). There was the time our host put all the kids together. Ten-year-old Elliot, overwhelmed by social anxiety, ducked into the bathroom and didn’t come back till dessert.
There was the year I gritted my teeth when a guest (after going on at length about her children’s many accomplishments) politely asked what kind of group homes were available for “people like your son” in adulthood. I didn’t know that someday my David would live independently in his own condo and hold down a job. I still didn’t want (eye-roll emoji) to eat my turkey with a side order of low expectations, thank you very much.
Beyond Meal Prep: Plan-Ahead Turkey Day Strategies
That’s why I have an attitude of gratitude about these T-day tips from parents who come to the table with practical strategies and perspectives for making the holiday easier.
1. Remember a Few Mighty Truths
The Mighty.com offers “25 Truths Special Needs Parents Wish Others Understood This Thanksgiving (https://themighty.com/2015/11/how-to-help-special-needs-parents-on-thanksgiving/). (I related to truth #12: “It’s OK if all my son eats is bread and butter. Peace and quiet on Thanksgiving is better than a breakdown over a nibble of turkey!”)
2. Get Ready to Say No
The Firefly Blog offers “5 Great Survival Thanksgiving Tips for Families with Special Needs https://www.fireflyfriends.com/uk/blog/5-great-survival-thanksgiving-tips-for-families-with-special-needs-children/ with a focus on firmness when social expectations run counter to your child and family’s needs. “The biggest and best advice is to stand your ground and exercise the word “no,” Firefly advises. “In fact, start practicing that simple phrase right now. The word, “no.” It’s so powerful.”
3. Minimize Sensory Meltdowns
Both of my children experienced sensory issues with certain food textures, noises, smells, and dress-up clothes. The Sensory Smarts website has suggestions for how to minimize sensory meltdowns. I liked their strategy for odor sensitivity during T-Day meal prep: Find a smell your child DOES like (often kids like vanilla or rose) and make that smell available either through a scented candle or an essential oil.” And on the other hand: “Cooking is a wonderful sensory experience. Let your child help you pour, mix, blend, and decorate holiday food. Even if you’re going to someone else’s home to celebrate, help your child to prepare a special side dish or dessert to bring along.” We usually brought along a complete, pre-cooked meal for David, who didn’t like any T-Day food. https://www.sensorysmarts.com/thanksgiving.html.
4. Help Others Know What Your Child Needs
A nice list of “Seven Tips for Surviving the Holidays comes from Tennessee-based Pediatric Therapies. One I appreciated: If you don’t want to go into fine detail on a child’s diagnosis (and mostly we don’t), stick with functional explanations. “Madison doesn’t like hugs. High fives are great, though!” It’s always a good time to help others help your child feel comfortable and included. http://pediatrictherapies.com/7-tips-surviving-holidays-special-needs-child/.
5. If Tech Can Save the Day, Go for It
Autistic Mama advises bringing tried and true comfort tech into holiday chaos, even if you minimize screen time in daily life. ”If you know that your iPad will calm your child down and avoid a huge meltdown, bring it. Who cares what your Great Aunt Sally thinks about kids being too dependent on technology? She’d also complain about how “kids in her day never acted like that” if your child has a meltdown. Choose the iPad!” https://autisticmama.com/thanksgiving-sensory-struggles/
And by all means—remember to give thanks for the small victories. They keep us going!