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December 5, 2023

Thanksgiving Is Coming! Autism-Friendly Holidays

The holidays are coming and so is the chaos! Our first holiday happens to be Thanksgiving which places an emphasis on food and eating. While some are excited to eat the “typical” Thanksgiving foods, this is not always as exciting for most young children and for individuals with Autism. Therefore, we have some behavioral tips to help with problem behaviors related to eating during the holidays.

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare! Show pictures, have conversations, or provide a social story about the food that will be served at Thanksgiving. You may want to introduce some of the foods prior to Thanksgiving to get them used to eating them. Additionally, give your child the language he may need to say “no” to eating certain foods, to ask for breaks if needed, and to request other foods. This allows them the autonomy to make their own choices and to voice them.
  2. Change the expectations: If your child only eats specific foods and likes to eat at specific times, Thanksgiving is not the time to try and change that. Allow your child to be comfortable by making or bringing their favorite foods with you. Offer them preferred foods in conjunction with the food being served, to allow them the autonomy in making a choice and the comfortability of eating what they are used to. Additionally, if your child is not used to eating with a large group of people, ensure there is a place for them to eat that is more comfortable for them.
  3. Reinforce: Make sure to continuously catch your child being good and provide that positive feedback as much as you can. You may want to proactively set a reward for your child for trying or eating certain foods. An example of this can be, “First, two bites of turkey then one M&M.” You can determine how you would like to reward your child based on what they are able to tolerate and do. It is also important to reinforce with potent items, activities, or food. The more desired, the better.

Overall, it is important to remember that the holidays are supposed to be fun and enjoyable. Therefore, if we prepare, change our expectations, and reinforce when we can, then we can increase the likelihood of creating a positive experience for our children who may struggle.

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