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Thanksgiving is a time to be with family, friends and enjoying each other’s company but when you throw autism in the mix it can get complicated very quickly. Most years we would spend time with our own immediate family because it was predictable and our son knows what to expect in the day or week’s events. But when you have family coming in from out of town and it is short notice, you have to get creative and sometimes have to give them a call to find out what their plans are once they arrive. This way, even if it isn’t picture perfect, you will at least have an idea and/or itinerary to plan for allowing you that opportunity to share with your son or daughter what is expected. But wait that is only the beginning of how to prep your autistic child for the whole Thanksgiving shindig.
What About Loud Noises
Any loud noise can send my son running in the opposite direction into danger, if he doesn’t have some noise canceling headphones nearby or us prepping him for what is normal to everyone else. For instance, if your family loves football, soccer and this usually involves shouting at the TV while their favorite player is making a touchdown or scoring a point then in instances like this you may want to consider some headphones that block out the noise. Of course this may not be an option at the dinner table but in the living room or elsewhere in the house is fine, so that the noises do not overwhelm your son/daughter’s sensory challenges.
Do I have to Eat That?!
As I mentioned above loud noises are just a piece of the autism puzzle. Although autism’s definition may be the same on paper, but to the outside world and in different families it has different faces, environments and overall dynamics that are as varied as the rainbow after the rain.
Food is a big one for our family and in the beginning, after our son’s diagnosis 11 years ago, he would only eat yogurt, fries, and other specific foods. He had a very limited diet and would not even eat meat for awhile because of the texture and how it felt in his mouth. This remains to this day with meat but has changed with other foods, so it has been lots of trial and error. A Thanksgiving feast is no different. There may be new foods that he/she has never seen or eaten and that question will come up, “Mom, do I have to eat that?”, “I don’t like the way the food looks” or my favorite “The food is touching each other.” If you are a child of an autistic child, you can definitely fill in all the blanks of what may have been said at the dinner table or at the local restaurant—you used to go to with your family. So stay ahead of the game and make sure to make dishes that are familiar and favorites of his/hers so that they can enjoy the food like everyone else.
It Smells Funny
Smells are a tough one, especially if there are situations that cannot be altered or changed because of where the smell is coming from, who is wearing it, or the environment that the smell is coming from. If it is a situation that can be walked away from or avoided then do so, but if it is like a family get together at your own home you may have to get creative in how to handle this delicate situation. Sometimes it takes care of itself by your child stating the obvious in front of everyone(it happens) and is addressed promptly, of course to your embarrassment, but at least it is taken care of. ***SIGH***
Being Judged or AdvisedUp & Away Adventures
No matter what you do to prepare your child with autism for Thanksgiving there will still be close family members telling you how to raise your autistic child and what you should or should not be doing, regardless of the fact that your child has special needs and/or has a lifelong disability. In all my years since I got married, have I ever received more “good advice” about discipline, suggestions, media based ‘insights’, etc. about how to raise our autistic child. Unfortunately most of the advice is based on ignorance. Most of our family members don’t understand the ins and outs of autism, let alone that he even has a disability since they are unable to actually ‘see’ it. He is considered high functioning but there are some definite challenges that my family has never seen on a daily basis. So when it does happen they seem so surprised. On the very rare occasions that a family member asks what they can do to help(extremely rare), I am more than happy to show them my website and/or answer any specific questions.
If All Else Fails
If you just don’t have the energy or desire to have to explain every sensory challenge, loud noise, etc. to your immediate family then the best thing to do for you and your sanity is to opt out and spend a quiet Thanksgiving with your own family and/or unfortunately have your family members visiting out of town to cancel. At the end of the day it is about making memories with your loved ones and being thankful for the little things. Sometimes it is okay to say no to meltdowns and yes to your sanity.