Thanksgiving and Autism: Coping with the Chaos of the Annual Feast



Thanksgiving Day can be a true ordeal for a child with autism and their parents. Visiting relatives’ homes, or hosting a multitude of guests may be a challenge for most of us, but for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their parents, the added stress can be unbearable. Eileen Bailey, writing for, offers several tips for making Thanksgiving a day that both children with autism and their families can all enjoy.

If you have additional tips to share, please comment below. We would love to hear from you!

Keep your child’s needs in mind when planning your day. You may be looking forward to seeing relatives from out of town or having a large family get together, but if this type of celebration is going to be hard for your child, there is a chance it will end in disaster, with both you and your child feeling frustrated and angry by the end. Think about alternatives or at least spending a portion of the day with quiet activities or make visits short.

Make sure there is food your child will eat. If your child has sensitivities or aversions to certain foods and you aren’t sure what, if anything, he will eat from the Thanksgiving feast, bring along his favorite foods. He will feel better knowing that his favorite foods are available and you will feel better knowing he is going to eat.

Make sure your child has a get-away space. If you are having friends and relatives come to your home, make sure your child’s room is off-limits. If you are visiting relatives, talk to your relative beforehand about having a bedroom set aside for your child to escape to, if needed. Bring a few favorite toys or books and when you arrive, spend a few minutes with your child in the room, so he feels comfortable and knows where he can go if feeling overwhelmed.

Provide a schedule for your child. If needed, use pictures, and explain the general timeline – what time guests will be coming (or you will be leaving to go to a relative’s house), what time dinner is, what time you plan on arriving at home. Explain any changes in routine ahead of time.

Talk about expectations during Thanksgiving dinner. If you expect your child to remain at the table throughout the dinner and ask to be excused, let him know ahead of time. If there are other rules that are different than in your home, make sure you talk to your child before arriving.

When entertaining in your home, keep changes to décor to a minimum. Rearrange furniture only if needed and use a few holiday decorations. The more that stays the same, the more your child will feel secure in their environment.

Happy Thanksgiving! We are thankful for you.