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How to Have a Happy Thanksgiving With Your Special Needs Family

10/09/2015 04:00 EDT | Updated 10/09/2016 05:12 EDT
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I love the colours of fall, the hunkering down inside to cook and bake, and the quality family time you can spend talking, laughing and eating the delicious crock pot type recipes at the kitchen table. I also love Thanksgiving, a holiday that reminds us to count our many blessings and practice gratitude in our lives. It reminds me how grateful I am to have the wonderful family and friends I do.

My son has started gravitating towards this holiday as well now. It's not just the holiday before Halloween for him anymore. He takes our turkey dinner and desert quite seriously, and loves the idea of making apple sauce or baked goods from the apples we get at apple picking. He also wants to make a cake for his grandparents' wedding anniversary, which falls on the Thanksgiving weekend. He's actually been talking as much about Thanksgiving as about Halloween! It makes me proud.

It wasn't always like this though. It used to be just another long holiday weekend for us dealing with my son being out of routine and having lots of behaviours. This was difficult for all of us. What has helped now as he has gotten older is talking about this holiday and what we will be doing that weekend.

If this is a challenging time for you and your family, here are some tips that can help you have a successful Thanksgiving celebration where everybody has fun.

1. Write a mini social story about the holiday and what it means to you and your family:

details like the meal, saying grace, talking a walk, watching the sports game on tv etc. You choose what to emphasize.

2. Have your child take an active part in Thanksgiving preparations:

This depends on their age, but they can do everything from helping to prepare the turkey or side dishes, to cleaning the house or their rooms for visitors, to setting the table etc.

3. Read stories about Thanksgiving and what it means to different people.

The main idea is to show that being grateful for what you have is what's most important.

4. Have sensory toys available and a safe corner where your child can go if the party gets too much, or they need a break.

This would things like thera putty, squeeze toys, sensory balls to bounce or press themselves on, and a quiet room where they can go decompress if need be.

5. Schedule the three days in advance with structured activities with some downtime in between:

This is so they know what to expect. Some like more structure, some like less. The important thing is knowing your child and what will make them most comfortable.

Our family likes to do a combination of things. We enjoy the traditional turkey dinner, weather permitting, going to the park, apple picking, along with visiting with some family at their place or them coming to us. Our downtime activities have tended to be watching a movie at home along with allowing time for my son to read or play in his playroom alone.

Some families go away, some stay at home. Some are more comfortable ordering out food, and some like the traditional meal. Whatever pleases your family is the way to go. There's no one size fits all model here. This is how we explained Thanksgiving to our son, and have had much success in our family celebrations. The important thing as always is to go with your gut as a parent. You know your child best. Wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving weekend!

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