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5 Tips for an Easy Thanksgiving with your Child on the Autism Spectrum

autism tips thanksgiving

Here are a few tips to make Thanksgiving an easier day for everyone, but especially for your child on the autism spectrum.


Thanksgiving kicks off the beginning of the holidays season, and with it, many new experiences for your child. Each holiday can bring a small (or big!) sense of trepidation for your family depending on the activities you all plan to participate in. Here are a few tips to make Thanksgiving an easier day for everyone, but especially for your child on the autism spectrum.

1. Arrive Early

If you are not the host of your Thanksgiving celebration, make sure you arrive a bit earlier than the other guests to wherever you plan to gather. Give your child a chance to explore and get acclimated to the environment and plan a quiet space where they can escape if things get overwhelming.

2. Bring A Backup Meal

If your child has difficulty with new foods or textures, as so many do, try to bring a small back-up meal for them. Let your host know that your child may end up with a PB&J on their plate and to please know it is no reflection on their cooking! Bringing it up before the event can make the appearance of outside food a much easier moment during dinner and also will make sure your child gets the nutrition they need to be able to handle some of the chaos that comes with the day.

3. Make Your Own Traditions

Consider your child’s unique set of needs and try to establish a tradition around something you know they will be comfortable with. Maybe it’s the entire family wears comfy pajamas to dinner instead of stuff formal clothes, or that every year you have the same seats around the dinner table. Talk about these things ahead of time using social stories or pictures from last year’s gathering to remind your child about that special food you ate or who may be coming this year from last year’s celebration.

4. Prompt Your Family and Child with Conversation Starters

Prep your family in advance for ideas on the interest areas of your child. If you have an Uncle who is coming who also plays Minecraft, prompt your child that they have those things in common as well. Anything to help them fit in to some of the social situations that will arise!

5. Practice the Positive Behaviors

Explain as simply as possible the rules of your family Thanksgiving. Talk about how you all sit at the dinner table or how everyone will greet with hugs or a “hello” when they come through the door. Rehearse the day together and incorporate role-play situations. Consider arranging a reinforcement schedule for positive behavior to increase the likelihood of the expected behavior to occur again throughout the day