ABA Thanksgiving Best Practices

ABA Thanksgiving Best Practices

By Tania Duarte, M.S. BCBA, 

Thanksgiving is a holiday where everyone gathers with their friends or family to celebrate what they are thankful for that year. However, for many families, this holiday can be an incredibly stressful time. Why would this holiday be stressful? For the host, they might be overwhelmed with all the cooking, cleaning, and planning that goes into this annual event. For others, they may be nervous about family members they tend to get into disagreements with. Then, there are families who are in need of a lot more support to make their holiday a positive experience.  

Reflection: What Do I Have To Be Thankful For?

For families of individuals with developmental disabilities/ autism spectrum diagnoses, there may be some obstacles or additional stressors when it comes to holidays. It is not uncommon for concerning thoughts to race through their head. Will my child eat anything that is available? How will I get them to sit at the table? What if they start screaming or crying? How do I handle questions from my family? Should I even celebrate Thanksgiving? How can I do this? What do I have to be thankful for? Thankful can be a strong word, especially for someone experiencing a challenging time. So you may instead want to ask yourself, what makes you proud, happy, or optimistic? Is it when you see your child playing? Or how about when you see them smile? Maybe it is their first word, sign, or learning how to use a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). Are they finally sleeping through the night? Did they recently start potty training? Although it may be challenging, try to find a few things that make you happy and reflect on what you look forward to in the future.  

Familial Support 

Having understanding family members can make a world of difference. However, sometimes if it doesn’t come naturally you will need to set the expectations. For example, if you don’t want to discuss certain topics or gain unsolicited advice about your child, you may need to make it clear in the beginning. You may say something like “we would love to share and focus on the positive things happening in our lives as we enjoy this holiday together, although we do appreciate your concern.” 

Making the Holidays Accessible 

It is important to also make sure your child is able to enjoy the holiday comfortably with everything they need to be successful. Does your child need any specific utensils, cups or dishware to eat? Do they only eat particular foods? If so, you want to make sure that it is available to them at Thanksgiving. For instance, some people may feel the need to dress up for Thanksgiving, however, if your child is not comfortable in those clothes how do you think that will impact them the entire day? Although Thanksgiving may seem like it is intended to be a formal event, comfort and accessibility are extremely important as well.  

Handling a Possible Crisis During the Holiday

You may be nervous that your child may engage in a tantrum. Has your family ever seen this before? You may want to tell them what it looks like and how you would like them to respond (or not respond) to their behaviors. When your child engages in undesirable behavior do you notice any triggers? How does your child do in large groups? Does loud noise bother them? You may want to consider bringing some items to help them feel more comfortable, like preferred toys or food. 

 Thanksgiving Dinner Prep List for Parents & Caregivers

  • ACC Device or PECS* 
  • Childs preferred food 
  • Favorite toys 
  • Any special cups, plates or utensils 
  • Headphones 
  • Music 

*Please note if your child uses an AAC device or PECS to communicate it is highly recommended it is brought everywhere with them. 

Happy Thanksgiving

Feeling thankful may be challenging when you are going through a challenging time with your child, however we would like you to take this time to reflect on what makes you proud, happy or optimistic about your child. What makes you smile? What makes you hopeful? What goals would you like to work on with them? 

Thanksgiving Skill Tracking Tool

The Therapy Brands ABA created a tool for you to evaluate your child’s current abilities this Thanksgiving. ABA therapists and professionals: this is a great tool to share with families. 

Utilizing this list of skills you can evaluate some of your child’s current skills and reflect on any you would like to work on to hopefully have your child perform next Thanksgiving when you fill this out again. Make sure to speak with your child’s treatment team regarding any goals you would like to start working towards with them. We hope you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving. 

Download your copy now. (You can use the fillable PDF as a digital tool, or print it out.)

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