Surviving Thanksgiving: Tips for Parents with Aspergers Children

Thanksgiving is especially difficult for kids who have Aspergers (high functioning autism). They are easily over-stimulated, and their emotions overwhelm them. So it is up to the family members around them to make life a bit easier for these kids. Remember, they are not social people. Crowds and noise overwhelm them. They do not cope well with the hustle and bustle of family get-togethers.

Some Aspergers kids may not want to join in when the family sits down to eat. They may be checking out the “goings-on” in the kitchen, trying to figure out how people cook, or they may sit in a corner participating in one of their obsessive hobbies. Let them be! If you pressure them to join in, they may become overwhelmed and go into a meltdown.

Surviving Thanksgiving: Tips for Parents with Aspergers Children—

Following these simple guidelines should lead to a much more positive experience for everyone, and will provide your Aspergers youngster with the love, support and confidence to participate fully in this wonderful occasion:

• Explain any changes to your Aspie’s routine; prepare him for any changes by calmly telling him the day before what will be happening. Visual supports always work well, so use photos or drawings to explain what will be happening.

• Explain to your Aspie that he will need to be given permission to leave the table. Rehearse this together with some simple role-play (this is very important because it gives your youngster an exit strategy and also allows him to get through the dinner without going into meltdown). If you see that he is becoming upset, you can activate the exit cue so he can get out before the situation deteriorates.

• Explain to your youngster what is expected of him (e.g., “Say ‘hello how are you’ to guests and sit at the table with us when we eat”).

• Keep any physical changes to your home to the minimum. Decorate, but don't make a big deal about it all.

• Reduce the time talking about Thanksgiving. Remember, your Aspie cannot easily control his emotions, so to talk a lot about this occasion may lead to stress and anxiety. Enlist the help of others in your home in keeping conversations about Thanksgiving to a minimum when the Aspie is within ear-shot.

Tips for Adult Aspies—

Here are some tips that adults with Aspergers may find helpful in surviving Thanksgiving:

• Seek help from a counselor if you need to. Holiday therapy can be a temporary bridge to January 2nd.

• Schedule realistically. Over-scheduling during Thanksgiving can lead to burnout when being around people is gratifying, but stressful (or just plain difficult). While it's great to push yourself to socialize, Thanksgiving is a time to be reasonable – don't expect yourself to attend 3 “get-togethers” in one day.

• Plan for taking breaks during visits; announce a time-out and remove yourself from the group (e.g., take a walk outside, take a nap with a book, take some quiet time for deep breathing, offer to run an errand in the car, play a video game alone, etc.).

• Beware of the lure of substance use. Many of us rely on an alcoholic drink or two to help ease “party anxiety”. While there may not be too much harm in this, there tends to be a surge in substance abuse during Thanksgiving, which can lead to hangovers, a shaken sense of self, embarrassment, or worse. Remember that as long as you're using substances to deal with holiday stress, you're not truly growing in your ability to handle difficult social situations.

• Be extra kind to yourself. We spend so much time during Thanksgiving thinking about giving to others (or avoiding it), but how much do we think about truly giving to ourselves? This is the time to use kind words and actions to take care of yourself (e.g., buy or check out a new book, go to the movies, eat a favorite meal, spend quiet time petting the cat, etc.).

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