Here comes Thanksgiving. Strangely enough, it’s going to be an easier time than in years past. Funny thing, I actually do the cooking. That alone puts me on a stress level that may be higher than many autistic people – and I said maybe, mind you. The thing is, a person who has done the main Thanksgiving cooking for, say, eight times in their life might be able to recall how it is done. It’s not that bad, considering we’re having a quiet Thanksgiving Day. However, I’ve been through bustling, huge Thanksgiving Days, too. I’ve got a few last-minute tips to give for the day.
- Setup, setup, setup. This kind of runs into the next tip, but involving some sort of planning and maybe practice is necessary. I am currently sitting next to an empty dish arrangement I made for the dinner setup. I’m in charge of Thanksgiving, but setup and practice may be necessary.
- Have the person get involved, when appropriate. I may have been delayed in some things when it came to social interaction and executive function, but I was fine in other things, like getting the finger veggies out (we always have pickles and olives at our table). Can they handle setting a table for the occasion? Go ahead and let them help out. Someday, you may have someone who can take over more major duties, or even the whole thing altogether. Give it time and patience.
- Have an Chill Out Space. This is not a traditional Safe Space, as marginalized groups prescribe. A Chill Out Space is actually a space away from the festivities the person can escape to, when, say, things get too loud, or, someone decides to discuss politics. It can be as simple as the child’s room. It is simply a place where the person can rest their senses and their interactions.
- The Girl Scouts Are Right. I learned early on that it was customary to give hugs to greet people in my family. I adjusted sooner than many like me. However, I don’t recommend a suffocating hug for someone who is, say, a little more delicate in the touch arena. Don’t push it if the person is not up for it.
- Have a Quiet Moment Immediately Before the Meal. In praying families, this seems to be built into the meal through prayer. A quiet moment helps center not just the autistic person, but most everybody.
- You Know Your Autistic Person….If You Listen and Accept Them. You know how much your child can take of Thanksgiving. If they need to eat in their Chill Out Space, go ahead and let them. It does not matter what your fickle relatives say; have they actually gotten to know the person?
Helping out an autistic person during Thanksgiving requires actually getting to know them, beyond perceived stereotypes, beyond disappointments, and all the way in acceptance. Unfortunately, many autistic persons’ caretakers are often unwilling to get there. This may or may not be the case with you, but acceptance of current reality is required for all these tips to actually work.
It’s not a thing I take for granted. For the longest time, the above statement was not true. It has taken me almost forty years to realize that being Free to Be Me was a privilege denied me for years. I had to change and conceal my true self with almost everyone. I mean, you’ve seen the wreckage. I’m still trying to figure out who I am. I mean, I’ve answered most of the fundamentals, like who I’m attracted to. I’m not going to digress into that. There are more answers I still do not know. I’ve just barely learned how to be free; now it’s time to learn how to be me.
In these hours it is when I realize how truly lucky and grateful I am for a parent who accepts me as I am. This has helped me free myself more than I have ever been. Many people I know do not have that, in relation to autism. I also know many more people do not have that in other ways. There is no real platitude or words of wisdom to give in those cases. Sometimes, you just have to amputate people from your life. You also need to reach out, and be vulnerable. Considering my history, this is very shocking for me to write. I have learned who my real friends are. And I’m not giving my trust out to just anybody. I know making friends while being autistic is hard, but you do need your support. You may find your support in surprising places. I know they’re out there. They’re going to help you be free. Don’t you think you deserve that to look forward to?
How is my Thanksgiving prep going? Pretty good. We have planned the menu and we will be shopping for it soon. You kind of have to do the fresh things, like turkey and fresh vegetables, a week before, so you can get it all properly. I must admit, I need help to do the Thanksgiving dinner the way we had it in the past, but I’ve got that too. I have done a Thanksgiving dinner before – several times. I also have the mind behind the Thanksgiving dinner – my mother.
It’s not all bragging. It’s careful planning and timing, something I still struggle with. We have our traditions for after Thanksgiving, too. It’s called “Staying Home and Putting up Christmas Decorations.” But I digress. There’s not really much to the Thanksgiving thing. To me, it’s mostly being thankful for what you have, and dinner.
I am thankful I have a mother who accepts me the way I am. I have a warm home with love and good furniture. I am thankful I have clothes to wear. I am thankful I can express myself in the blog I have. I am thankful I can clean the clothes I wear whenever I can, thankful for a washer/dryer combo in my house. I am thankful I have a dog that looks at me like I’m the best thing that ever happened. I am thankful that I can say I have basic needs covered. Many people around the world and near me do not have even this.
I’m talking mostly to the American folks, who celebrate Thanksgiving, but you can apply these tricks to any holiday you’re celebrating. Now, admittedly the Halloween talk came a bit late, but I’ve decided to get a jump on the Thanksgiving Attack Plan. And if you’re smart, thanksgiving prep for an autistic person begins November 1. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s the day after Halloween. Maybe if we get some jump on the real autism talk, or my flavor if we get truly real about it, here’s a few tips to consider when getting into Thanksgiving prep with an autistic person:
- Have regular meals at the table. This can be done year-round, and if you do this, your child will know what to expect sitting down for a Thanksgiving meal.
- Accept the child’s autism. This will get a lot easier if you accept that the kid is autistic, and was always autistic, and will always be autistic. I am forty years old, and I am still autistic. And that is a set of traits, not tragic. Get the tragic narrative out of your head. It is possible for your autistic child to have a good, autistic life. Nowadays, I do the Thanksgiving cooking. As far as anyone goes, the cooking on Thanksgiving is no small feat. And I do it my way.
- Thanksgiving decorations, if appropriate. Something that helps me personally is the holiday decorations. It gives me the sense of excitement that I need to propel me into Thanksgiving meal planning, Thanksgiving guest expectations, Thanksgiving celebration, and Thanksgiving rest if needed. However, if this is inappropriate, go ahead and leave this one out.
- Keep the favorite dish of the kid’s on the table. I know, this can be a tough one, especially if the kid will eat nothing except chicken nuggets, or white food, or nothing spicy, or what have you. But it will give the kid a sense of security and acceptance , making them feel like a part of the family. For me, that Thanksgiving food was a cherry walnut salad. I know, it’s a little adventurous, but if the favorite food is kept on the table, they’ll feel more like part of the family.
- Don’t take it personally if they only eat the favorite food. It is not an affront to you if they do not eat the turkey, or the cranberry, or the green bean casserole. Often, it is a sensory issue with the food. It may be too slimy, too saucy, or even too hot or cold. Relax. Here’s a point: If your neurotypical kid was, say, a vegan, would you be able to get them to eat the turkey?
- Have a place for the kid to “chill out” when things get too loud. I get it-I’m dating myself when I say “chill out.” You may not need it, but sometimes, a kid needs to chill out. For the autistic kid, that may be sooner and more often than most others. And if the kid is headed into a meltdown, wouldn’t it be better to be prepared?
- See if the kid can help in the preparation. This is a sneaky way to get your child prepared and anticipating, instead of dreading, Thanksgiving. Age-appropriate preparation, help and interaction is necessary. I began with setting the table. Then I moved to putting together the pickle and olive tray (separate cartons, relax!). Eventually, it was mixing cold dishes. I then began to hep cooking the ten or so side dishes we still cook. And then, I graduated to the turkey. It’s a natural, gradual process.
- Let the kid stim or rest away, even if you’re sitting down for the meal. Again, this is a meltdown issue. Would you rather have someone sit out and be okay, or a knock-down, drag-out, possibly table-destroying meltdown?
- Don’t pressure the kid about eating everything on the plate. The real beauty of preparing a large meal is that you can eat it all weekend. My family would eat a small amount of food, and eat the rest of it over the weekend. It was great.
I’m going to need some help concerning more tips as to what we as autistics and the ones who love autistics can do. Any more tips?
I do not consider my mother an autism warrior mom. Warrior moms and my mother are very different. Take autism warrior moms. They prescribe restrictive diets. They have “therapists” beat the children, starve the children and hold their children’s favorite things above their heads until they exhibit neurotypical behavior. Of course, I am referring to Applied Behavior Analysis. They don’t give any rewards until the child passes for neurotypical in the therapists’ eyes. They even pump caustic bleach up the child’s rectum in hopes for a “cure” for autism. And when their children finally grow up and rebel, they often murder the child, and society takes their side.
My mother was not the usual autism warrior mom. Sure, she’s a warrior and a mom, but she knows that things are there to protect me, not her ego. She never did things like restrictive diets, ABA and CD/MMS to Make Cambria Neurotypical Again. Of course, I was never neurotypical in the first place. She also told me that. I exhibited signs of difference as a baby. Sure, she fought for me to have speech therapy and social training, but not really passing for neurotypical. She explained to me that I was learning how to act in public. In private, I could be myself. She taught me basic life skills, like cooking, cleaning and paying bills. (Of course, with pre-cut frozen vegetables and basic sauces, cooking is really quite easy for me.) Eventually, I will learn to drive. I want to drive badly, so my mother can focus on getting better. What I am trying to say is, I can generally take care of myself, which is more than I can say for most “warrior mom” children out there.
The difference between my mother and “warrior” mothers is, there was a modicum of acceptance concerning my mother. Once she learned about autism for the first time, she prayed and asked God for guidance. (As you all know, we are Christians.) I think she never really knew about ABA, but I don’t think she would have approved of the techniques. When I had to stim, I did – even if it meant running up and down the hall six times. I am not traumatized by her upbringing.
There is a trend of videos, that, to put it bluntly, just angers me. I heard of gymnast Simone Biles being filmed while still being affected by the anesthesia after the dentist. Sure, it was funny, but it was funny in a way that laughing at an autistic person in meltdown mode is funny. It’s humor for bullies and haters. Why do people do that?
Trust me; I come from a place of familiarity and some guilt on this one. I used to laugh at drunk people’s foibles on videos. Fortunately, I realized that most people who are drunk are not in their right mind. Yeah, acting not normal is funny, but if laughing at people in distress is your thing, that is sad in itself. And that is the trouble: laughing at people who are drunk, laughing at people who are affected by dentist haze, and laughing at autistic people in meltdown is as cruel as throwing water on a drowning man.
Speaking of a drowning man, you remember the teens who laughed while filming a drowning man? He died. Due to their laughter and not helping him, his blood is on their hands. You who laugh at people in distress, you are no better.
I saw a rerun of “America’s Got Talent.” On the show, a deaf woman sang her own original song, with her own original, beautiful voice, and with her own way of feeling out the notes and vibrations; she had her shoes off to feel them through the floor. I thought that bit was amazing. It got me thinking: I know what we do when we have a perceived disability: We adapt. We adapt to get through the world not made for us.
For some of us, the learning process is easy, especially when the person is supported and accepted as they are, without shame or blame. Unfortunately, the vast majority of us have a hard, trouble-ridden process of adapting. I used to speak stiffly and with echolalia well into adulthood, especially since I was not taught how to mimic good speech properly, in the right environment. I know that through childhood and early adulthood, I have been bullied, made fun of, tricked into compromising pranks, and even mocked by adults supposedly watching out for my best interests. However, I later found these adults who looked out for me in a group “program” setting. It was there that I finally felt like I was in the “inner circle” I longed to be in. I finally, in my thirties, found the way to speak with a natural flow and rhythm.That group therapy has been discarded through budget cuts now, but it was the first time I actually felt like I fit in somewhere. It was a new feeling to me; I did not know what to with it at first. The point of the story is, in the best environment, where I am supported and encouraged, I learned an essential skill.
A lot of people with autism do not receive this essential support at all, or not until late adulthood. I guess I am one of the lucky ones. I would like to get some tips on how to create that particular environment online, where I apparently have a tiny sphere of influence. I want to create a space where people can easily be themselves and supported, without blame or shame. I want to create a space where we can learn to adapt and practice adaptation safely. Anyone want to help?