Tips for Navigating Thanksgiving with your child with Autism

A Tantrum-Free Thanksgiving: Tips for Navigating the Holiday with Your Child with Autism

Nov 5, 2021

A bustling, busy kitchen, a big turkey dinner, and plenty of conversation with relatives and friends we don’t see nearly often enough. We all enjoy different Thanksgiving traditions, but for most of us, Thanksgiving dinner looks a little different than a normal meal at home. And if you’re hosting or attending a big celebration like the one described above, you’re likely to encounter a number of behavioral triggers for your child with Autism.

As parents everywhere know, a little preparation can go a long way. We’re here to offer a few ideas to help you make it through the holiday without a meltdown.

Make a Visual Schedule

For many children (and especially children with special needs) routines and schedules offer comfort and a feeling of control. And holidays, such as Thanksgiving, can really throw off a routine. To help your kiddo understand what’s happening when, consider making and discussing a visual schedule with your child ahead of Thanksgiving Day.

Want to know more about visual schedules? Check out this blog!

Set Expectations

Kids (and adults) are more likely to behave the way we want them to if they know what to do and how to do it. Talk through expectations before and on the day of the event. Consider discussing things like how long (or if) you expect your child to sit at the table and what kinds of behaviors are appropriate and not.

Add Favorite Foods

For many of us, Thanksgiving includes traditional foods that we don’t eat every day. If your child has strong preferences around food, consider including some tried and true favorites. Big holiday meals aren’t the best time to introduce kids to new or different foods.

Designate a Calm Down Area… Before You Need It

If you’re attending a big Thanksgiving dinner in a bustling home full of friends and relatives, it’s very possible your child with autism may become overstimulated. Before things get too busy, consider designating a calm down space (do this ahead of time if you’ll be having dinner at your house or talk to your host if you’ll be traveling). Choose a spot in the house that is away from the noise, and stock it with a few comforting tools – stuffed animals, fidget spinners, noise cancelling headphones, etc.

For a calm down area to be effective, it helps to talk with your child about it first and make sure they’re comfortable with the space. Whether you’re looking to build something a little more permanent in your own home or to pack a toolkit to have available on the go, check out this blog for a little more info on creating a calm down area.

You’ve got this, parents! Big family meals sometimes come with outside pressure and extra opinions from others. You know what’s best for your child – stick with your plan!

From Innovative Behavior Options, we want to wish you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving! If you’d like to learn more about ABA therapy and how it can help your child with autism or special needs increase independence and thrive, give us a call at 770-250-0093.


1155 Hembree Rd, Ste. 210
Roswell, GA 30076


M-F: 8am – 6pm
Weekends: Closed

Phone & Email

Phone: (770) 250-0093 ext. 700
Fax: (678) 412-1662