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5 Ways to Make Thanksgiving a Fun Experience for Children with Special Needs

Thanksgiving mealThanksgiving is a time when families get together and express their gratitude for life’s many blessings. While it is a favorite holiday for many, the hectic activities surrounding the day can be stressful for children with special needs. However, with a little planning, you can make Thanksgiving an enjoyable holiday for all children. 

Serve Them the Meal They Love

Several families have family traditions such as a feast that includes turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes. Your child’s not a fan of turkey and cornbread? Include their favourite Mac and Cheese in the menu. This way, you can ensure that your child truly enjoys the Thanksgiving dinner. 

Accommodate your child’s specific dietary needs in your holiday planning. Make a shopping list ahead of time and remember to include your child’s favourite drink and dessert in the menu too. Some children with special needs may not do well with change in routines. In such cases, discuss the menu with your child in advance so that they know what to expect during dinner. 

Give Them a Task To Do

You can include your child in the holiday planning by assigning them a task. If your child loves baking, put them in charge of cookie cutting. Take your child to the grocery store and ask them to look for the items in your shopping list. You can also ask them to help you with the decorations. 

Ask your child how they’d like to help. Give them a few options so that they can pick a job they are comfortable doing. Entrusting them with a responsibility gives them a sense of pride when they complete the task.

Talk to Them About Gratitude

Sit together as a family and take turns talking about what you are grateful for. If your child is uncomfortable participating while the guests are present, plan this activity for after the guests leave. Encourage your child to share the things they are thankful for. If your child has trouble coming up with a verbal response, you can ask them to write or type out Thank You notes instead.

Some children with special needs can respond better to visual representation. Show them pictures of vacations and  fun events that they enjoyed. You can also add these images to your child’s AAC app and talk about them. This can help them recall fond memories of those events and motivate them to express their gratitude.

Identify a Safe Space

Whether you are hosting the dinner or celebrating Thanksgiving at a friend’s home, it is important that you find a safe space for your child. Unfamiliar people and boisterous conversations can overwhelm children with special needs. If they feel distressed and  experience a sensory overload, whisk them away to the safe space you had already identified. 

If the loud music gets too much for them, give them a pair of noise-cancelling headphones that can help in calming them. Carry their favourite toy or book and keep it handy. Reading their favourite story or playing with a familiar toy can distract them and help them relax. If the child insists on leaving, oblige and take them away from the place immediately.

Have a Socializing Plan in Place

Social gatherings can cause anxiety in children with special needs. Enlist the help of a family member who the child feels at ease with, like their grandparent or aunt. So, when you are busy entertaining the guests, the family member can make sure that your child is relaxed. 

Talk to your child about the guests you are expecting. Thanksgiving can be a time to teach them social etiquette. You can discuss with your child about greeting the guests. You can also load phrases in the aac app that the child can use to welcome the guests, so that they do not have to worry about remembering what to say.

Even a well thought-out plan can go out for a toss, especially when the Thanksgiving party has people of all ages in the mix. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan! Have snacks and surprise goodies that can brighten up your child’s mood. Remember to follow their lead during the party, and make sure they are comfortable at all times. By following these simple tips, you can make Thanksgiving a holiday to remember for you and your family.

A heartfelt thanks for your continuous support. Team Avaz wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving and all the joy and abundance the holiday season brings.

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