I hope you are well and getting ready for Thanksgiving. For many of us it is a very happy, albeit stressful time. Thanksgiving has its way of being especially stressful for parents of kid with autism spectrum disorders when it comes to managing behavior issues. Here's a quick read about what you can do, as a parent, to make such challenges less stressful. Please note that although the focus is on Thanksgiving, these ideas can be applied to any holiday time or other important event.
As fun as it can be to travel or have family visit for Thanksgiving, these changes do represent a disruption to routines. Dinner may be at a different time, travel may disrupt sleep or activities of daily living, or you may not be able to give as much time as you would like to your child's routine because of how busy you are. As we know, such disruptions can be very difficult for kids with any form of developmental diagnosis. One suggestion is to try and prepare a routine for travel in advance; you can also try to work sleep and meal time into these plans so they stay as consistent as possible. Another idea is to discuss, whether using a social story or simple discussion referencing routine charts, any upcoming changes. Give an overview and try to break down the changes into easy to understand steps and provide reminders as you get closer to the holiday.
What if you're too busy to attend to you child? Some kids have a very high threshold for attention. If you cannot provide the usual standard, try something like informing your child ahead of time that you will be busy and not able to give them their usual attention. Have other family members provide for some interaction time. Also, if you have the opportunity to prepare in advance, do so. This can free up time for your child as well as reduce the stress you are likely to experience otherwise.
Give your child an escape route if things get too busy or loud. For kids with ASD, especially those with sensory processing challenges, this is critical. Make sure they have access to headphone, a quiet space, something calm to do, or someone who can manage the flow of other people interacting with them.
Thanksgiving dinner is the best part of the holiday; it can also be the most negative mood generating part too. Having to wait for the big meal can cause anyone to become bored, restless, or HANGRY. This can rub everyone the wrong way so you can help yourself and your child by setting up some things for your child to look forward to besides the big meal. Having other relatives provide some distraction with games or interaction can be very useful so the focus is not only on you.
Talking during the meal and, in general, can be a challenge for kids with ASD. Those with impulse control issues may interrupt more. Some may speak too loudly or hog a conversation. You can assist your child with these challenges by having a plan to let your child know if they are speaking too much etc. You can also role play different stages of a conversation and how to behave during each one.
BE FLEXIBLE!!!! So much effort goes into teaching kids with ASD to be flexible and handle disruptions so to avoid disregulation. The fact is, we get disregulated too...by stress and things not going the way we plan. This is bound to happen during Thanksgiving. You can help yourself by allowing your child to relax some behaviors (identify which ones you can do this with) such as having to sit still during the meal. You can also practice uncertainty training, which is where you remind yourself that something may not go according to plan, such as your child being able to make it through the meal without disintegrating, by telling yourself exactly that: something may happen. It's not pessimism, it's reality.
I hope you found this post helpful! Happy Thanksgiving!