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Having an Autism-Supportive Thanksgiving

At a Glance

In this post, we'll cover a few goals you may want to have for an autism-supportive Thanksgiving. 

When planning an autism-supportive Thanksgiving environment, the most important thing is to consider the individual needs of your autistic guests. 

Here we want to offer some starting points for building that enjoyable and welcoming space together!

The end of November is fast approaching, so we think it is a great time to chat about how to have an autism-supportive Thanksgiving. Like other holidays, Thanksgiving can include large gatherings, lots of transitions, schedule changes, and a little chaos for good measure. 


When planning an autism-supportive Thanksgiving environment, the most important thing is to consider the individual needs of your autistic guests. 


Here we want to offer some starting points for building that enjoyable and welcoming space together!

Know Your Anchor Foods

Thanksgiving is a day when we eat a lot of dishes that don’t show up any other time of year and some popular dishes can get gobbled up in a flash. For autistic people who do have specific food preferences or needs, this dynamic can quickly turn a fun evening into a frustrating one. 


Luckily, this is a challenge that can easily be overcome with a little planning and cooperation! By discussing food preferences ahead of time you can not only make sure it’s on the table, you can make sure there is enough set aside that it doesn’t have to be a source of stress.


While we are on the subject of food, some autistic people may feel more comfortable eating away from the considerable clamor of a crowded Thanksgiving dinner. This can be a very hard ask because it can be seen as such a social faux pas! Or we want to be accommodating to the other peoples' expectations.


If you know this to be a strong preference for the autistic person you are supporting, doing the background work to make it a real option with no pressure to explain themselves can lead to a lot of relief. In fact, you can even take it a step further…

Establish a Decompression Zone

We all know the stress of interacting with lots of family members at once, and Thanksgiving can be an all day affair. For many autistic people, that much forced interaction can be a little too much to deal with nonstop for hours on end. 


To add to the stress, some family members might not be especially understanding and needlessly take offense when an autistic person finally asks for some space. 


Much like it can help to have the option of a private dining space for those who might want one, it can be hugely helpful to have an established decompression zone available. 


Not only does it establish that private space for whatever reason it might be needed, it establishes the precedent that its use might be necessary. 


Although we may wish some of our family members could just be a little more patient of their own volition, establishing expectations can go a long way! And when despite your best efforts there are some unexpected challenges, it is also OK to remember…

Acknowledge the Chaos

An eternal feature of making everything come together for the holidays is things going wrong, people miscommunicating, weather failing to cooperate, and issues that you can only chalk up to random chance. 


Amidst all the planning, it can help to remind oneself and anyone helping with planning that things can, likely will go wrong, and that those things can be handled. We can make plans for the things that we are most worried about, and it’s still possible there will be issues we did not expect at all! 


We’ve created a whole array of social stories specific to Thanksgiving to anticipate some of those specific situations. But when in spite of it all things break down it’s important to acknowledge everyone’s feelings in that moment. Just another reason why decompression zones can be such a helpful general outlet!

It can be hard to balance the needs of every guest that might show up on Thanksgiving. We hope these tips will give you some ideas on how to approach ensuring you extend that same courtesy to the autistic person or people in your life. 


If you have any tips or suggestions you’d like to share on helping to create an autism-supportive Thanksgiving event we would love to hear from you! Just drop us a line at hello@autismgrownup.com.

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