All contents of this resource were created for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, therapist, or other qualified health providers with any questions or concerns you may have.

Gearing up for the holidays? Afraid of facing Thanksgiving this year? Let TACA help you!

While parents and guardians cannot anticipate and prepare for every little thing, taking time in advance to check things off the list can make your Thanksgiving run a bit smoother.  Let’s talk about how to plan ahead, prepare for the big meal, make traveling easier, avoid sensory overload, and keep your child safe during this cherished holiday. You got this!

Preparing for Thanksgiving

  • Prepare your extended family, especially if they are not regularly around your child.
    Make sure they know:  
    • What to expect
    • What not to do
    • How to interact with your child
    • What your child can and cannot eat
    • Situations that are difficult for your child like loud noises, flashing lights, stormy weather, etc.
  • Consider hosting the holiday gathering at your house so your child is more comfortable.
  • Use social stories to help your child know understand and prepare for the holiday chaos.
  • Develop a portable picture schedule to help your child know what to expect on Thanksgiving Day. This can reduce anxiety.  Maintaining your child’s regular routine as much as possible will help as well.
  • Keep expectations realistic. There is no need for a Martha Stewart Thanksgiving. 
  • Ask friends and family for help when you need it.

The Thanksgiving Meal on a Healthy Gluten and Casein Free Diet

At TACA, we know that many kids with autism improve on a gluten and casein free diet.  Here are some tips on how to stay on your GFCF diet, even at Thanksgiving.

  • If you are invited to a house where you cannot control the menu, make sure you bring all snacks, meal, and dessert foods for your child. Don’t let your child eat foods of which you are unfamiliar.
  • Consider letting your child sit down to a plate full of their favorite gluten and casein free foods for the family meal. This may not be the time to expose your child to new foods.  Your child will be happy and that will set the tone for a successful family gathering.
  • Check that turkey! Turkeys are injected with additives.  If you have questions about ingredients or additives, call the manufacturer and ask for a full ingredient list to be emailed to you.
  • Check that ham! There are MSG and nitrate free hams available.
  • Looking for tried-and-true GFCF Thanksgiving recipes? Our online support group for parents has a number of threads with delicious recipes the whole family will love.
  • Be prepared for possible food infractions. See TACA’s webpage for more information on this topic.

Traveling to Your Destination

Whether you are driving or flying, a little preparation can go a long way!

  • Stash away a few of your child’s favorite toys, books, or movies a couple of weeks before your trip. Pull them out, one at a time, during your travels to help pass the time.
  • Let your child practice packing and unpacking so it is not a surprise for them to see their things packed up the day before the trip.
  • TACA has “My Child Has Autism” cards to hand out to strangers that don’t understand your child’s behaviors. Have these cards on hand. 
  • Prepare for the trip by creating a social story or showing your child pictures of the airport, airplane, destination, etc.
  • Find more information on Traveling With a Child With Autism found here.

Tips for Preventing or Dealing with Sensory Overload

  • Give your child an escape.  Set aside a private room for your child to safely relax when the crowd and noise become overwhelming.  Make sure there are familiar books or other belongings in this area. 
  • Get outside to expend energy!  Weather permitting, take a walk to gather leaves for décor.
  • Set up a table of crafts that include sensory input.
  • Plan for sensory needs including noise blocking headphones, weighted blankets/vests, comfort items, calming music, etc.
  • Consider seating your child at the end of the table so they aren’t squished between people.  This also lets them get up easily without disruption.
  • Don’t forget to give your child their supplements or medications in the chaos of the day. 
  • Dress for comfort, not the occasion.

Keeping Your Kids Safe

Wandering and accidents can happen any time with children on the spectrum. Being in an unfamiliar area may increase this risk. Be vigilant.

  • Designate one responsible adult to keep eyes on your child. Give that adult a time frame.  When their time frame is up, they can pass the responsibility to another responsible adult.  Sharing this important responsibility assures your child always has eyes on them and gives everyone some time to relax.
  • Learn more about Keeping Your Kids with ASD Safe here.

TACA wishes your family a Thanksgiving filled with fun, gratitude, and love.


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