5 Hints for a Terrific Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Dinner Table with Roast Turkey

The pandemic isn’t over yet. But thankfully, for those of us who are fully vaccinated, this year’s holiday season promises to be far more festive than last year’s.

While this return to some semblance of normalcy is a welcome relief, for families with disabled children, the prospect of a return to large social gatherings can be a mixed blessing.

Here are some tips to ensure that your family’s Thanksgiving is a good time for all.

1. Don’t forget the masks!

Bummer though it may be, the facts are the facts. Even if teens and adults in your family have received their vaccines, as of this writing, vaccines have just been authorized for children under 12. And while being fully vaccinated generally provides good protection, those who are older or immunocompromised can still get quite sick if they contract the virus. According to Healthy Children.org, a website from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN) may be at increased risk for more severe illness and complications. This includes children with chronic physical, developmental, behavioral or emotional conditions, disabilities, and those with medically complex conditions.”

 2. Plan Ahead

Careful planning is key to successful holiday activities. If you’re traveling by plane, train or other means of public transportation, be sure to pack books, snacks, portable toys and sensory items such as a weighted vest, to keep children busy and calm on the trip. If your child is medically fragile, find out about healthcare facilities in the community you’re visiting. Double check hotel reservations, especially if you will require special accommodations for your child.

3. Prepare your child

After nearly two years of limited social interactions, your child may need to brush up on her social skills. Talk with her about what to expect at holiday gatherings and remind her of social protocols. Roleplay appropriate behaviors and reacquaint her with family members and friends through photos and memory sharing. Social stories are great way to teach children with social skills challenges to navigate the holidays. Special education advocate Lisa Lightner’s blog, A Day in Our Shoes has some great Thanksgiving-themed social stories that can serve as a jumping off point.

4. Talk with your host

If your holiday plans include visiting a friend or family member’s home, get the lay of the land beforehand. Have an open, honest discussion about your child’s needs and how best to accommodate them at the event. For example, find out what’s on the menu. If your child is on special diet or is just a picky eater, there’s no need for the host to change the menu. If you know what’s being served, you can supplement the meal by bringing food your child favors. Similarly, if your child becomes overwhelmed by large groups, noise, smells or other sensory experiences, ask your host if she would mind directing you to a space where your child can go to rest, play quietly, or watch TV if he becomes overstimulated. Most hosts will be more than happy to accommodate your child. If that’s not the case, maybe you should consider skipping the event.

 5. Don’t overdo it

While holiday season can be joyous, it can also be exceedingly stressful. After almost two years of quarantine, most of us are feeling anxious about returning to large gatherings. Children, especially children with disabilities, may feel this anxiety even more intensely than the rest of us. Respect that and adjust your holiday plans accordingly. If you and your family aren’t ready to resume pre-pandemic levels of socialization, that’s completely legitimate. Friends and family who love you will understand.