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What To Expect
Children with autism love predictability. If they are informed with what expect on Thanksgiving Day, their level of anxiety will be low and they will be better able to navigate through their environment. A social narrative that describes what a typical Thanksgiving Day at Auntie Betsy’s house looks like and explains appropriate ways to behave should be read many times prior to the event. This is an evidence based practice (EBP) that will allow a child to gain a sense of familiarity in preparation for the day to arrive.
Designating a quiet room or even an outdoor space where a child with autism can take a break from all the loud music and boisterous company many Thanksgiving events brings will also help to ease a child with anxiety or sensory sensitivities. A feeling of being overwhelmed can often times lead to extreme meltdowns, so it’s best to be proactive and take breaks at fixed intervals so everyone enjoys their Turkey Day!
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Thanksgiving, a joyous occasion filled with festive foods, loving family and time reflecting on all the things we are grateful for in our lives. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to practice many life skills with individuals on the Autism Spectrum.
Thanksgiving usually brings together family and friends who may not see each other on a regular basis. This opens up an opportunity for an individual with autism to work on conversation exchanges with unfamiliar people. Prior to the big day, it’s a good idea for parents and behavior technicians to practice these skills using conversation scripts, which are pre-written sentences that give the learner the language to use in specific conversations. Details such as making eye contact and responding to greets are also important skills to include.
Critical thinking skills can be challenging for children with autism, so it’s always beneficial to practice them. A Thanksgiving themed critical thinking skill for beginners would be having an individual discuss the things, people and experiences that make them happy and thankful. Adding the question of why they are thankful for these things would take this skill a step further, and jotting down a list and categorizing them in order of importance could be an advanced level skill to teach.
Formal dining arrangements allow for students with autism to work on daily living skills such as setting the table, eating with a fork and placing a napkin in their lap while eating. It is also a good time for ABA therapists to work with their clients on manners such as saying, “please pass the gravy” and “pardon my reach.” Targets such as ‘setting the table’ can be taught using task analysis which involves breaking the skill down into individual steps. Then chaining can be used to teach each step, one at a time in sequencial order. For manners, the use of video modeling in which the child watches a video of themselves or others using good manners, would be a beneficial tool.
It’s also important to make accommodations and modify the environment so that individuals with autism are able to partake in festivities with as little stress as possible. An experienced Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) will be able to come up with suggestions of exactly how to do this.