Sensory Safe Thanksgiving: Embracing Neurodiversity at the Dinner Table

Nov 20, 2023 | Events, Family, Neurodivergence

A Thanksgiving Feast for All Senses!

Thanksgiving – a time of gratitude, family, and, quite often, a plethora of delicious dishes. For families with neurodivergent children, however, the holiday’s focus on food can present unique challenges. This Thanksgiving let’s talk about how to make our dinner tables a sensory-safe haven where all children – regardless of their neurological makeup – can enjoy the holiday in their own way.

The Sensory Spectrum of Thanksgiving

Food textures play a significant role in the dining experience, especially for neurodivergent children who might be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to certain textures. The traditional Thanksgiving menu, rich in a variety of textures from creamy mashed potatoes to the crispness of a green bean casserole, can be a playground or a minefield.

Key Strategies for a Sensory Safe Thanksgiving:

  1. Variety is the Spice (and Texture) of Life: Offer a range of textures to cater to different sensory preferences. For example, alongside the traditional turkey, offer some sliced turkey with a smoother, less fibrous texture.
  2. Involve Kids in the Kitchen: This can be a playful and educational way for children to get accustomed to different textures. They can mash potatoes, mix salads, or help in baking, turning a potential stressor into a learning moment.

Inclusion Without Expectation

Neurodivergent children might react differently to the social and sensory stimuli of a Thanksgiving gathering. It’s crucial to create an environment free from the expectation to ‘behave’ in a traditionally accepted manner.

Key Strategies:

  1. Create a Quiet Space: Set up a room away from the bustle where kids can retreat if they feel overwhelmed.
  2. Respect Food Preferences: If a child prefers to eat only one or two items from the menu, or even an off-menu item that their parents may provide – that’s perfectly okay. The aim is to make them feel included, not pressured.

Letting Kids Be Kids

The essence of a sensory safe Thanksgiving is allowing kids to experience the holiday in their own unique way. This means showing grace for the individuals that come together for the holiday, and letting go of conventional expectations about table manners or ways in which children “should behave.”

Key Strategies:

  1. No Forced Participation: If a child is uncomfortable sitting at the table for the entire meal, allow them the freedom to eat where they’re most comfortable.
  2. Provide Non-Food Activities: Coloring, puzzles, or a quiet corner with books can be great for kids who need a break from the sensory input of the meal.

Conclusion: A Feast of Acceptance and Understanding

Thanksgiving is more than just a meal; it’s a celebration of togetherness and gratitude. By making a few adjustments, we can ensure that everyone in the family feels included in this special day.

This Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks for the beautiful diversity of our families, embracing each member for who they are, not just who we expect them to be.

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