Most kids, special needs or not, embrace tradition (for tradition can take on many forms, including the comfort of family, the predictability of dinners sitting around the table and the familiarity with grandparents and cousins). Most adults are no different. My own family has spent nearly 30 years watching Jeopardy! together around the dinner table. I don't quite know what dinner would be like without Alex Trebek.
Though Thanksgiving happens only once a year (and boy, do I wish it was more often!), it is a holiday immersed in tradition. For families of children with special needs, it can also be a tough holiday to deal with. Between the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving travel and the at times overwhelming noises and smells, it is not always smooth sailing.
But Thanksgiving is also ripe with opportunities for positive interaction and the establishment of family traditions that can be carried on for years to come.
So How Do We Prepare?
Of course, there is all the food; the cooking of the turkey with all the trimmings. Days and hours can be spent on the task. But how about a practice Thanksgiving as well? It doesn't have to be a grand affair -- you can order dinner from Boston Market a couple of times during the month of November -- and talk to the family about having a pretend Thanksgiving before the big day. You can create a social story all about Thankgiving, including the people who be attending, the food that will be served and the events of the day. You can go over food choices, encourage the kids to try an unfamiliar food, and practice table manners. Movie and theater productions have adopted similar ideas when putting on shows for kids with special needs. They allow the kids to come to the theater days before, practice walking through the aisle to find their seats, sitting down properly and figuring out how to get to bathroom. This "dress rehearsal" can mean the difference between providing a sense of security and an easy holiday and dealing with anxiety, fears and tears.
Remember, traditions come in all forms, from baking and cooking with your child to creating an art project. Play up your child's strength (write a holiday poem together, make up a holiday song, make it a game) and always remember -- have fun.
Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving!