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Sensory-Friendly Thanksgiving Tips

Updated: Apr 10

The holidays are a time when families and friends gather together in celebration. The culture and traditions that surround the entire holiday season can bring excitement and fond memories, but for some kiddos (and adults) this can be overwhelming or overstimulating. Our Speech and Occupational Therapists have compiled some tips to help make Thanksgiving more sensory-friendly and encourage positive communication habits.

Tips for an inclusive Thanksgiving:

Go over the Thanksgiving Plan

  • Read Thanksgiving books or create social stories to have positive conversations about Thanksgiving. This will help set up expectations for what might happen the day of the event and will make it easier to adapt to changes in routine.

  • Picture schedules can also be a great way to lay out the day's plan- if you already use a picture schedule for daily activities, help your kiddos prepare for a change in routine and discuss this in advance.

  • Have a plan of action for when your kiddo might get overstimulated and make sure to bring preferred activities if you're traveling!

Positive Communication Environment

  • Give adequate wait time for kids to respond and engage in conversation.

  • Have communication devices available at the table. Whether it's a picture book or AAC device (make sure it's fully charged!), if your little relies on this to participate in conversation, have it available during all family activities.

  • Introduce Thanksgiving vocabulary so they can get used to new words. You can also find holiday words that target speech sounds they might be working on!

Stress-Free Meal Time

  • Involve your kiddos in preparing one of the dishes! This is a great opportunity to talk about foods, work on new vocabulary, and give them a better understanding of their holiday meal.

  • Provide alternatives for mealtime. Bring snacks or preferred foods for your littles. Only providing new foods can add unnecessary stress (for kids and parents!) and lead to a negative meal experience.

  • Have a learning plate! A learning plate is a great way for your kiddo to explore new textures and flavors without having added pressure or stress of new foods being on their eating plate.

Be Mindful of Sensory Needs

  • Have a space where your little (or you!) can take a sensory break or have recharge time. Bring your sensory toolkit, noise cancelling headphones, and/or preferred activities.

  • If your kiddo has a difficult time engaging with a group for an extended period of time, set a timer for them to go back and forth between group activities/ conversation and recharge/ alone time.

No matter what adaptations you make for the holidays, be sure to communicate with your family and friends so that everyone is on the same page! Let's give everyone the opportunity to fully engage in holiday activities!!

If you have tips or strategies that you use for the holidays, please share them with us!

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