The Thanksgiving Season can look a little different when you’re parenting an ASD child, but as you know, this time of year is filled with just as much joy and gratitude as anyone else’s. At times it may feel overwhelming while you juggle schedule changes and family get-togethers, but taking time to sit back and allow gratitude to enter your daily routine will bring the meaning of the season to the center of your mind, while benefiting your child and yourself at the same time.
Share What It Means To Be Thankful
The first task in celebrating this holiday season with your child is to ensure they have an understanding of what it means to be thankful. Thankfulness and gratitude are words that are used much more often in late fall and early winter than they are throughout the rest of the year. This may cause ASD children, who may face challenges with verbal language, to not grasp their concepts completely.
Whenever you teach a new word or phrase to your child, they take it in through categorization and associations. You can use this knowledge as a tool while teaching what it means to be thankful.
Begin with words related to thankfulness that your child is already familiar with. Include phrases such as “This home makes me happy; I am thankful for it.” When your child hears the word “thankful” being said with the word “happy” consistently, they will begin to connect the two terms and will understand that feeling thankful is a positive emotion. You may want to include phrases into your day such as “I love you; I am thankful for you” to introduce the idea that we are thankful for those we love as well.
Practice Gratitude Together
While teaching the word “Thankful” is beneficial, it may not feel meaningful until you bring action alongside it. You want to give your child the ability to look around them and see what they are thankful for as well. To do this, you can introduce a few simple activities into your daily or weekly routine.
One activity that works well is creating a list, chart, or picture with your child. Bring in the language that you used when you introduced the term “Thankful” here as well. Consider making a Happy/Sad Chart, with a list of things that make your child happy on one side and things that make them sad on the other side. Talk about how your child can be thankful for the things that make them happy.
You could also draw pictures of people, places, or objects that your child loves. This is a great activity for younger children, or those who have a more difficult time with written language. As you draw, include language of gratitude once again.
If you are wanting to teach gratitude at a more significant level, consider volunteering with your child. Find a volunteer setting that your child is comfortable with, such as a food shelf or even simply raking the yard for a neighbor. While you work or after you finish, talk about how your actions helped the other person. Be sure to use familiar language here, so your child is able to grasp the difference, or at least the meaning behind the difference that their actions made. The meaning behind volunteering may not be fully understood right away, but the older your child becomes and the more often you volunteer with them, the more likely they are to see the difference they can make in the lives of the people around them.
Find Gratitude For Your ASD Child
While you work to teach your child with ASD the meaning of the Thanksgiving season, remember to take time to think back on how much you have to be thankful for as well. Even though parenting is difficult and can be even harder with an ASD child, these children bring us so much to be thankful for as well. Think of your child and what makes them unique. You may notice their limitless creativity, their incredible work ethic, or their contagious joy. You may see the way they’ve brought smiles to the faces of their doctors, or taught teachers more than any other child had before.
Special needs kids demand special love. The kind of love that needs to be more patient, more understanding, more empathetic, more gentle, and more kind. They also demand action; such as proactive advocating for your child, speaking on their behalf because they may not be able to for themselves, and putting yourself in their shoes so that you can provide an environment that’s safe and loving. Love like this is pure, and it is something to be grateful for. Special needs kids develop special parents, and this is something to be thankful for, too. You are forever changed when you love a special needs child.
Their diagnosis does come with real challenges, but it also comes with so much to celebrate and appreciate as well. After all, without ASD your child wouldn’t be the same little person you love and adore today; and look what you could have missed out on!