Dr. Reeve is a member of the Autism Society Panel of Professional Advisors and her bio appears below.
With Halloween just over, we are entering into the holiday season in which many of us try to take stock in the positive things and people in our lives and give thanks. But, in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, sometimes it’s difficult to help individuals on the spectrum to participate.
Many people will see giving thanks as a chore or obligation. However, many of us believe that giving thanks periodically is a blessing or opportunity. I come from a family with a sister with autism and we certainly have had our share of rough patches from death to family crises. But it was always ingrained in us as children that giving thanks for what we have is not only socially appropriate, but it’s a blessing to us to help us recognize the positive things in our lives.
Over the years, I’ve watched how this perspective has helped all of us, including my sister on the spectrum, to approach and manage the challenges in life a bit more positively. When she is feeling down or discouraged, being able to give thanks for the things she is able to do and the accomplishments she has had, as well as those who help her, is an important component to her life (and really for all of us).
Expression and communication are sometimes difficult for our family members or students because of their autism. However, just because they might have difficulty expressing it doesn’t mean that they don’t have a desire give back and be thankful. They just may have difficulty expressing that gratitude. And that difficulty should not prevent them from having the opportunity to express thanks to others and have their gratitude recognized.
At this time of year, there is an abundance of options for ways to give thanks. However, for individuals of all ages who have limited communication skills, saying thank you is something that may be a bit more difficult.
Here are 7 ways I thought of to include a family member, student or loved one in our giving of thanks this season.
1. Using pictures of people and activities as well as things, have them identify ones they are thankful for. They can make a collage or include them in a card wishing that person a happy holiday. You can also use these choices to help with some of the other ideas below.
2. Program a speech-generating device with a prayer or thank you and allow the individual to say grace over Thanksgiving dinner. It might be part of the prayer or all of the prayer. For a person without a voice, it may help them to participate.
3. If the individual has difficulty speaking in groups, have him or her dictate or write a prayer or thank you with a sibling or a cousin or friend. Then have that person read it at the appointed time.
4. If speaking in groups is difficult and it’s hard to find the right words, videotape the prayer or thanks and have them play it at the appropriate time. You can also then edit out any parts that they don’t like or feel weren’t quite right.
5. If they can write effectively, or dictate or type, have them write a note to a person thanking them for something they did this year. It could be thanking a sibling for letting them play with a toy or writing a letter to a military member serving overseas to thank them for their service. You could also use guided notes so that they could fill in the blank if writing is difficult for them.
6. Help them create a script to thank someone and then have them send a video or audio recording to the person with the message.
7. For younger children, have them draw a picture of what they are thankful for and give it to the person they are thanking. This makes one of the best home to school or school to home holiday gifts as well.
I hope this gives you some ideas for your family gathering or school activities surrounding this season. I wish you a very happy holiday season.
Christine Reeve is a special education consultant providing technical assistance and professional development to schools around the U.S. After working for 13 years in higher education, she in the founder and director of Reeve Autism Consulting. Chris has authored several books for special education teachers including Taming the Data Monster and Setting Up Classroom Spaces for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She loves helping teachers reach their students who often have autism or severe behavioral issues. She authors the blog Autism Classroom Resources, developed the Special Educator Academy and is also a teacher-author for TeachersPayTeachers.