IMG_1421As you prepare the turkey and trimmings for Thanksgiving, make the holiday more enjoyable for your child with autism by modeling these language and social skills!


For kids with limited language skills:

Some children with autism are confused about the sequence of “Thank you/You’re welcome”. For example, your child may say “Thank you” or “You’re welcome” when handing something to someone rather than “Here you go. This is for you.” These children need more guidance about speaker/listener roles.

With your child in these different roles, practice giving and receiving items such as plates of holiday food while using this language. Guide your child’s wrists or arms as he hands something to you while you model language by saying, “Johnny, say, ‘Here you go, Mom.’” Explain to your child (possibly by putting your pointer finger to your lips) that once he has given the item to you and has empty hands, he stays silent while you say to him, “Thank you, Johnny.” Then model, “Johnny, say, ‘You’re welcome, Mom’.”

In the reverse role, you put something in his hands while you say, “Here you go, Johnny.” Next, model, “Johnny, say, ‘Thank you, Mom’”. Then, tell your child to stay silent while you say, “You’re welcome, Johnny.”

Recap for your child that whoever gets something in his or her hands is the person who says “Thank you”; likewise, whoever was the giver with nothing in his or her hands at the end is the one who finalizes this interaction by saying “You’re welcome.”

You can provide this flow chart for your child to better visualize:

He has a thing in hands to give >>> He says, “Here you go.” >>> Now he has nothing in his hands >>> He waits for the other to say, “Thank you.” >>> Now he says, “You’re welcome.”

You have a thing in your hands to give. >>> You say, “Here you go.” >>> Now he has something in his hands. >>> He says, “Thank you.” >>> You say, “You’re welcome.”

For kids with more language skills:

These children have a correct understanding of the “Thank you/You’re welcome” script, but the conversation often ends there. To build deeper expression, model reasons for your gratitude of your child’s holiday preparation assistance: “Thank you for helping me stir the mashed potatoes.” Or use different words like, “I’m so happy you are helping me set the table.” ; “I appreciate that you took your free time to help me wash the dishes instead of watching TV.” Plus, when your child thanks you, encourage her to add on the reason. Likewise, teach your child that saying “You’re welcome” is a nice way for her to invite you to ask for her help again. Model different ways for her to express “You’re welcome”: “Mary, say… ‘Of course! I am so happy to help you.’; ‘I’ll help you anytime.’; ‘Sure! I will always help you.’”


Explain that because Thanksgiving is a special event with no work or school, people like to visit each other to relax and enjoy. If your family is hosting Thanksgiving, your child can practice hospitality by greeting guests at the door. Besides the typical “Hi! Happy Thanksgiving!”, you can role play with your child by modeling, “It’s so nice to see you,” or “I’ve missed you.”

Point out to your child that even though everyone is responsible for his or her own belongings, it’s important to make guests feel welcomed and comfortable to enter your home. Teach him to take the guests’ jackets and provide escort into his home. Model language like, “I’ll take your coat,” and “Please sit in the living room.” To encourage socialization and language, your child can prepare plenty of entertainment and invite the guests to join in by saying, “Hey, Paul, let’s use these art supplies to paint turkeys with our hands,” or “Would you guys like to throw this football to each other outside?”

If your child is a guest at someone else’s home, you can model, “Kate, say, ‘I’m so happy to visit you’”, or use the same language as before such as, “It’s so nice to see you.” Likewise, bring along games and objects to stimulate social interaction and conversation.


Remind your child that because Thanksgiving is a special dinner, there is a lot more food to be shared. Whomever’s home at which you gather, explain that both the guests and the hosts provide food. Complimenting is one way we can make the cooks and bakers feel good and appreciated, like, “Wow! This pumpkin pie you made, Aunt Kathy, is delicious!”

Offering is another way we can make people feel nice like, “Uncle Joe, would you like some stuffing?” In response to their “thanks,” we will let them know that they are “welcomed” to always feel comfortable around us.

With these ideas for building language and social skills, your child will grow closer relationships among family and friends which is of the highest importance on Thanksgiving – and every day.

About the author:
Karen Kabaki-Sisto, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and Applied Behavior Analysis instructor. For over 20 years, Karen has been helping people with autism improve their communication abilities within public schools and at-home settings. After a decade of technological experimentation, she invented “I Can Have Conversations With You!™”, a life-changing therapy program for iPad to help people with autism enhance their social and language skills like never before. To learn more, please visit