Gobble time on the spectrum
Updated: Jun 13
Thanksgiving is an exciting time of year for many people. The first sentence likely isn’t true as much this year because of COVID-19’s limits. However, people on the autism spectrum can have unique challenges and interesting things to contribute during gobble time.
With COVID-19 in mind, some of these challenges and good things listed may not apply to this year because relatives aren’t fully able to physically meet. However, one can still include them if there is a virtual Zoom meeting with family members.
Challenges can include, but are not limited to:
Tastes or textures of foods
According to Autism Speaks, people on the spectrum can often be picky eaters. Maybe it is the texture of turkey or the strong smell of stuffing that isn’t appealing. People have their food preferences. However, autistic people can have hyper food sensitivities. The best thing to do is to encourage the person to take a couple of bites of the food in question. If they don’t like it or are terrified to try it, let it be.
Good manners and social awareness
Through my personal experience as a child, I sometimes required extra prompting to say please and thank you to people. People with autism can often lack social awareness to realize that saying thank you to the person who made the food can make their day better. If you help a person understand these rules, this can stop offending someone accidentally.
Interrupting when someone is speaking
Since people on the spectrum do not always understand non-verbal social cues, if they sit at the table or during a Zoom meeting, they may not pick up when another person has finished talking and accidentally interrupt. If this happens, you can help them with strategies for not interrupting, such as reading the speaker’s face.
Isolation from family members
As much as I love my family, I sometimes feel frustrated at my inability to converse as well as the others. This frustration leads to me feeling isolated from my family. People with autism struggle to interact with others. If you notice your loved one doesn’t say much, encourage them to share something with the family.
According to CDC, tantrums are common with people on the spectrum. This characteristic can especially be true if something strange happens or a routine change occurs. For example, if some relatives can’t show up to dinner or a Zoom meeting, this may distress the person. To prevent outbursts, let the person know in advance if something not to their liking could happen.
Good things, but again not the only good things, can include:
Trying new foods
This one’s rather simple, but like most other people, sometimes trying new food can make an autistic person’s day better. If you know what types of foods they do like, encouraging them to try certain foods can be easier.
Improving social interaction
Monitor the person’s social skills. If the person got an A+ on a test, ask them to share the news with the family. This interaction won’t only help them improve their social skills, but they may also feel more accepted.
If a relative brings up something relevant to the autistic person’s life, subtly encourage them to chime in. Similarity often helps people form meaningful bonds with each other. If an autistic person’s cousin brings up a video game they like, you can say, “_____ likes that game too!”
Often, people with autism can have talents related to their diagnosis. For example, an autistic person might be an expert on map routes. If a relative says she wants directions from Clifton Hill to a winery in Beamsville, this autistic person might speak up and give them a detailed route. There would be no need for either party to use Google Maps in this case. If people are aware of an autistic person’s talents, this may help the person feel better.
Thanksgiving is about being thankful, after all. Ask the person what they are thankful for. If they struggle to find an answer, let them know about their strengths or nice things in the world.
A break from school or work
Although Thanksgiving may have challenges, school or work can be tough times for people on the spectrum. These people may feel relieved knowing they won’t have to put up with many demands that affect their symptoms. If they are close to the relatives involved, being away from school or work helps them feel even more in their comfort zone.