Thanksgiving is a holiday filled with thoughts of what and who we are thankful for. Millions of families across the U.S. dedicate all or most of the day to cooking, eating, and laughing with family and friends from all walks of life. Nearly 6.5 million adults in the U.S. have intellectual or developmental disabilities or IDDs. It’s not hard to imagine there is a member of the family or a friend celebrating with you who has an intellectual disability. 

We all look forward to good times, but we often forget how stressful a busy holiday like Thanksgiving can be until the celebration is already in full swing. The hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving can be extremely overwhelming for individuals with IDDs, who often have sensory issues. 

We’ve put together a list of 5 strategies you and your family can use to prepare family members and friends with intellectual or developmental disabilities for one of America’s most beloved holidays.

  1. Plan ahead. Create a detailed schedule. 

Individuals with disabilities often live by strict schedules and routines. A busy holiday can throw a wrench in those schedules. Make a new detailed schedule for the day and tell your family members with special needs in advance how the day is going to go, including waking up, getting dressed, cooking, games, tv time, and more. Mark it all down and include pictures to make it clear. 

  1. Bring a part of home with you. 

If you’ll be spending the day away from home, bring home with you. Favorite toys can keep a child’s attention longer. A favorite blanket, pillow or stuffed animal will make midday naps comfortable and familiar. Think outside the box and bring favorite plates, bowls, cups or utensils. Fancy dinnerware can be confusing and odd to individuals with IDDs. 

  1. Find a quiet corner. 

Remember, if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. For an individual with sensory issues, especially with noise, being stuck in the middle of a crowd all speaking at once could be frustrating. Find a quiet corner or room where they know they can go if they are uncomfortable.

  1. Introduce everyone before the celebration. 

Meeting new people or being expected to remember family we only see once a year or less can be scary. Send an email, make a few calls, or just a quick text to introduce your child or adult family members with IDDs to your hosts. Let them know your family member may get upset or need extra time, or what to expect from their body language and reactions.

  1. Expect unwanted comments. 

People who haven’t spent time with special needs individuals usually don’t have the best reactions or know what is appropriate to say. The easiest way to avoid getting upset by insensitive talk is by not engaging with it. Practice what you’ll say beforehand, and remember it’s okay to deflect to a new topic.

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