Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks, but also a time to share with family, friends, food, and football. This can make for a lot of noise and activity. There are people everywhere, everyone is trying to help prepare or keep kids entertained, and routines are different from other days. For children with autism, this can be very overwhelming. It is not what they are used to. In turn, this can lead to more meltdowns or undesirable behavior as they try to cope.
Recognizing these challenges can help you to approach the holidays more prepared to deal with these changes and help your child to work through them.
Talk things through – in advance. Let your child know ahead of time what to expect for the holidays. Though things may not go exactly as planned, they’ll have a better idea of what is going on. You could also create social stories to go over how to respond when someone wants to hug them, when it’s time to eat dinner, or interacting with people they may not have seen for a while.
Talk to family. Let your family know how they can help as well. For instance, if your child doesn’t like to be touched, has an aversion to certain smells, or has a topic they’re really interested in and like to talk about, give people a heads up. This can help them to interact more effectively and avoid certain triggers.
Identify a quiet place to unwind. Pick a spot where your child can go if they’re feeling overwhelmed and need some time to decompress and relax. Bring a favorite toy or two or something that helps them to feel calmer and in control.
Dress comfortably. Being forced to wear an itchy sweater or stiff dress can make an already challenging day even worse. Instead of a formal meal, ask if it’s okay if everyone dresses more casually. Let your child wear something you know they’ll be comfortable in and that won’t cause sensory issues or difficulty with buttons or zippers.
Bring acceptable foods. If your child is selective about what they will or will not eat, prepare a few foods you know they’ll eat. Encourage them to try what is available, but also have a backup plan. You want them to be able to enjoy the day and the meal just as much as everyone else.
Catch them being good. Is your child doing a great job sharing or waiting their turn? Did they engage in a conversation with Aunt Sally or Grandpa Joe? Let them know they’re doing a great job! Reinforce positive behavior and recognize how well they’re doing.
Help your child to continue practicing skills they’ve been working on during therapy at PediaPlex. Use this as an opportunity to put them to use in a new situation. You can also talk to your child’s therapist about recommendations or strategies they have for handling the holidays. They can start working with your child on preparing for the change in routine and interacting with more people as well. ABA therapy, speech therapy, and other services through PediaPlex can all help your child to function more independently and overcome challenges they may face.
Contact PediaPlex to learn more about how ABA therapy can help your child to build their skills and communication.