The MLO Minute: By Dennis McAndrews, Esq., Caitlin McAndrews, Esq. and Allyson McAndrews, M.Ed.
Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday for many individuals, as the event centers around a wonderful meal with an opportunity for family to connect without expectations of gift-giving or other extensive preholiday preparations (except for the persons who are cooking the dinner!). At the same time, this holiday – and many other holidays – can present unique challenges for families with a person with disabilities, as these individuals with disabilities are generally most comfortable with routine and with a clear prior understanding of events which will occur in their lives. As a consequence, these families can best celebrate the holidays with some additional preparation to ensure that the individual with disabilities is as comfortable as possible with the increased stimuli which these holiday events inevitably involve. An article recently published by The Autism Connection of Pennsylvania provides a number of tips which, while specifically designed for persons with autism, can also be helpful for families which include any individual, young or old, with any difficulties with transitions or changes. For the sake of brevity, these tips are summarized below.
- First, advance planning and discussion is particularly important so that the individual with disabilities can understand in advance the nature of the event and what to expect during the day.
- Second, be sure to include foods that the individual with disabilities particularly enjoys, even if it is not on the traditional Thanksgiving menu, as this accommodation will help make the individual feel welcome and an integral part of the celebration.
- Third, if possible, prepare other family members for any potential unusual behaviors of the person with disabilities so that no one overreacts and will better understand how to respond; it is often useful to plan a quiet space where the person with disabilities can escape from the increased noise and stimuli of the family gathering.
- Fourth, talk to the individual with disabilities to determine how best to prepare for the celebration – oftentimes, this discussion will provide very useful insights for such measures as the availability of headphones if noises become overwhelming, an off-limits room for a safe place to escape, or a preferred activity readily available for use.
- Fifth, be ready to adjust expectations for the person with disabilities, as flexibility is very important at these special events, and a rigid approach to the celebration is likely unrealistic; while reasonable limits are obviously necessary, each situation is different and may require a unique approach.