Thanksgiving. A wonderful time of year when so many of us get together with loved ones. A time for routine, rituals, and a meal that we have once per year. Personally, I truly believe this is a holiday each and every one of us can celebrate as there is almost always something – even one small thing – we are each thankful for.
But let’s be real. It can also be a time full of stress. For those with a special needs kid in the house, it can be incredibly difficult. For kids who thrive on routine, the holiday season throws them it out the window. I could write an entire book on holidays and the autism spectrum child, as there are so many different facets for each and every family. As we’re all scrambling to make this the best Thanksgiving, ever, I’ll cut to the chase and hit on a few points that should touch home. Let’s call it Five Reasons Your Totally Awesome Holiday Goes South. (And I don’t mean down by my neck of the woods, lol!)
Five Reasons Your Totally Awesome Holiday Goes South
1. Change in daily routine. School is out. That can be reason enough for a kid who needs a schedule to be out of sorts.
2. Thanksgiving dinner timing. How many of us, regardless the menu, don’t eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the usual times? We sure don’t! Now my Aspie is a teen, but she still laments the fact that “Thanksgiving DINNER” should be called “Thanksgiving way-too-late LUNCH”.
3. Thanksgiving menu. Newsflash. Not everyone likes turkey. Or stuffing. Or that jell-o salad that Auntie Dear just has to make each year. But we eat it. Or at least pick at it. And, generally speaking, we don’t mind. It’s tradition, after all. But for someone with a Sensory Processing Disorder, the different tastes and textures can be short of a nightmare, depending on the person.
4. Having company overnight. This may mean Junior gives up his room. Or the living room looks like a base camp. For some families, this is heaven. For kids on the spectrum, it can be, too, but for others, it can be hard having someone stay over. (We’re back to “routine”, again.)
5. Travel. Or take number four and flip it around. Traveling has its own hosts of trouble spots. Take a spectrum child, travel, then throw in a dinner that isn’t recognizable, and we’re onto something memorable, aren’t we?
So, what can we do? It’s easy to make light of it or complain, but the truth is, for families like mine, this time of year can be discouraging, especially as extended family and friends may make comments that sting. I’m not saying mine has, but I know all too many readers who live this, so let’s turn the potential negatives into positives!
1. Talk about the week’s schedule. Write a schedule or list out, if possible, to let your child know what to expect and when. Simply knowing what’s going on ahead of time can be of tremendous help!
2. Think about dinner time-ing. If dinner will be at an odd time, tell your child at least a few days ahead. Consider letting her snack a little before the big meal, if that will help.
3. Reconsider the menu. At one point, jell-o was “new”. Why not introduce a familiar food to the menu as a new tradition? If nothing else, make sure your child have a few foods she enjoys. This doesn’t mean she shouldn’t try something new, just choose to be sensitive to her sensory world and she will love you for it!
4. Company can be fun. Social stories are a great way to help your child understand what’s expected when company is in the house.
5. Hotels work fine. If it’s in the budget, a hotel stay can make a world of difference when traveling out of town. Yes, this can cut into the vacation budget (it definitely cut into ours!), but knowing a quiet space was waiting our daughter at the end of each day did wonders.
And I’ll throw in a freebie. Try your best to not let the unkind words of others get to you. We’ve all heard ‘em at one time or another. Sometimes, from strangers. Sometimes, from those who know us well. Sometimes, our kids hear it, and that stings for a long time. If possible, try to educate about what makes your child different. This isn’t always effective, but worth a try. If nothing else, set an example of patience, and know that there are others out here who’ve walked that road. Your child is amazing! Spend some time this Thanksgiving to remember that!
~ Julie Clark ~