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Strategies for an Autism Thanksgiving and the weird trade-offs we have to make…


So tomorrow is Thanksgiving and the wife and I are both a little apprehensive. Why? Because the holiday is at my in-laws and Kyle gets a little crazy there lately (ok let’s say a lot crazy there lately).

Now before y’all say why don’t they move the holiday somewhere else? Let me say that our families are both great and extremely accommodating. And we’ve moved most holidays into more Kyle-friendly environments (like our house or my sister in laws house). But my in laws want to keep Thanksgiving at their house. And that is totally fine. We have to be flexible once in awhile too. 🙂

So, of course we are going. But we are nervous. The main reason we are nervous? Well here’s how I put it in a previous blog post but it’s even more true now…

“He attacks the elderly.  🙂  He cannot be around my in-laws without trying to bite my father in-laws forehead or pulling my mother-in-laws hair.  He also likes to rip off jewelry & glasses off your head.  But mostly with his grandparents.  My wife likes to say that “he loves the crap out of them”

But lately it has gotten worse especially with
my father in law. Kyle can’t get enough of him and it’s cute for the first 20 minutes but after that it gets weird and very often lately, aggressive. He pulls hair, grabs for hearing aids, breaks glasses, grabs for jewelry and earrings, etc, etc. mostly with my father in law but my mom and my mom-in-law can catch some shrapnel quite often too.

So the wife and I were talking about this on Tuesday while sitting in the waiting room of Kyle’s after school behavior therapy session.

This therapy is mostly to do with his breath holding (which I keep meaning to write a blog post about!)

Anyway, after the session the dr brings Kyle in and we are chatting and the wife asks him for any advice, or methods, or protocols we can use to keep him from grabbing at his grandparents.

And he said one thing to try is to keep his hands busy with sensory toys as much as possible. He has noticed that when his hands are busy he’s a wee bit less aggressive when he is in one of his rages. The dr mentioned to try a koosh ball or something to that affect.

So we took all that in and then discussed it later that night as we are strategizing about Thanksgiving night. (yes this was on Tues, 2 days before the holiday and the pre strategy sessions have begun)

We are trying to think of things to bring that he likes to occupy his hands. And the wife says “his beads!”

Kyle loves beads! And he will walk around the house with them all day if you let him.

But I said to her “but I’ve been taking the beads away from him a lot lately because he’s always got them in his mouth.”

And she said “well we might have to let him do it to get us thru Thanksgiving.”

And I’m like “so we’re gonna encourage one bad behavior to get rid of another?”

And she’s like “um yeah. And which behavior is worse? Chewing on beads or attacking his grandparents?”

And, of course, she’s right!

These are the crazy decisions and trade offs we have to make in a severe autism household!

Other Thanksgiving strategies?  Well, it’s currently 8:12pm on Wed night and there’s already a bag by the front door that the wife has been slowly packing to bring with us tomorrow.

That bag will contain books, iPad, toys, BEADS, tons of meals & snacks, Paula’s dog food, Kyle’s evening meds if we stay past 7pm, etc, etc.

And my in laws live less than 10 minutes away so godforbid we forget anything ol’ Autism Daddy can just drive home and pick it up.

(no I never forget things on purpose so I’d have an excuse to get away from the Kyle craziness for 20 minutes…why would you even think that?) 🙂

And we will probably take 2 cars so I can make a quick Kyle escape if need be and the wife can stay later and hang with her family and help her mom with the dishes.

That’s it. Other than all that it’ll be your normal, typical, Italian American Thanksgiving.

I’m sure it will all turn out fine. As long as the magic beads do their job!





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Written by

Frank Campagna

I’m a 48 year old neurotypical dad with a 14 year old son with severe, non-verbal autism & epilepsy. I created this blog to rant about autism & epilepsy while celebrating my son who I affectionately call “the king” :-).

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17 People Replies to “Strategies for an Autism Thanksgiving and the weird trade-offs we have to make…”

  1. Have you guys considered making him a necklace by stringing uncooked pasta and cheerios as beads? He can play with it and, if he chews on it, it won't be bad for him. Our son's OT discovered that letting him chew on uncooked pasta, he receives all the oral stimulation he needs and, it doesn't hurt him at all. We use the veggie type pastas for this to help get in a few extra nutrients. Just a thought on how to give him "beads" without causing a new bad habit to form.

  2. Anonymous

    I am so thankful that my kiddos are okay at holidays. I feel for those of you that have to struggle. When they were very young it was so much worse and we stayed home and missed out on a lot. Now my parents are much older and stopped having holiday meals with the whole family so we all do our own thing now. I am sad for that that my kids miss out on their whole family like that. Best of luck to you, sounds like you're ready for the day. And if he needs to chew it sounds like maybe you should find him some appropriate chew beads. Lots of places make them, it might help, I don't know just a thought. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!!

  3. Anonymous

    I can so relate to what you are writing.

    With our family it's my daughter and I who are the targets. Pinching, biting, shoving…..arms are bruised, sometimes there is blood 🙁 The worst rages are in the car….when this autism mom is driving. Have had to pull over and hold the car doors shut while waiting for autism dad to drive and save me. In between these rages he's can be sweet, loving boy with severe autism.

    This has been going on for 7 years, since puberty started at age 12. When does puberty end???

    Good luck with the beads! Thank you for all you do….it's nice to know there's someone out there who "gets it"!

  4. Anonymous

    Our extended family gets together out at a community center type of place. The echo in the room we go in is overstimulating for ME let along my son. If more than 2 people are talking, it is almost unbearable to stay in the room for long. So, last year and this year one of us stays home with our son and the other takes our other child and goes to the dinner. Our son spent 10 minutes 2 years ago trying to get out of the building and was so stressed by the time we got him out the door, I can't do that to him again. We are working on getting him a service dog and hope that will help him in those situations. We will attempt them with him at that time. Honestly, everyone just eats and leaves since they usually has somewhere else to go for supper so it feels like it isn't worth all the planning and packing we have to do to take him.

  5. Anonymous

    Well your family is a lot better then my family they don't even want him around because of things that have happen @ family gathering before,like meltdowns,he bit one of his cousins and the family had a fit on us told us to leave and the fact that he wear diaper's don't help. His table manners aren't the best he like to walk and eat and sister don't allow that so I cook and we just stay home which is better for him and family could care less about us not being there. Enjoy your family and your day.

  6. Anonymous

    would it work to buy him some bead necklaces which are designed "to chew"…or "rattle and chew"? there is one brand called Chewbeads…lots of others..

  7. Anonymous

    We will start the day with a food then a "Turkey Trot" on bicycles until physical exhaustion and then more food, my aussie gets VERY, VERY agitated when hungry but never realizes he's hungry so doesn't eat and then gets so agitated and miserable that he doesn't want to eat, but if he would only eat he would feel better. So lots of little meals. Ipod, ipad, camera (and the spare), chargers, and the xtra meds, can't forget those. Will have homemade Italian wedding soup in crockpot for when we get home b/c he won't eat enough at Thanksgiving dinner and will be asking to leave as soon as he cannot access internet at Grandma's. Happy Turkey Day!!

  8. Love your view on Kyle! And so glad your family understands and accepts him for him!

  9. Hey there! Check out amber teething beads? If he has to chew on beads, he has a need. Good luck!

  10. Frances

    Yes, tire him out! Our strategy was to take our son swimming early on the morning of Thanksgiving – yes, many gyms and rec centers are open for a few hours on Thanksgiving, and guess what, all of the people in the pool are parents with their autistic kids. When the pool closes, we head to a park, and if weather allows, a bike ride around the neighborhood. Hubby and I tag-team on taking naps and talking to relatives.

  11. I'm also dreading the day but am going to put on the face and go to our friends that we go to every year. Not only does my son have crazy ASD flip outs but he is the pnly child at Thanksgiving. The friends are all watching football and EJ is jamming a Thomas video in their faces or trying to mount the dog. These social things are SO stressful. I sometimes wonder if its worth it but I have to live and we can't hide our lives away. The strategy is downloading new apps from Itunes that he will get psyched about and a few new toys that can hold his attention!
    Happy Thanksgiving to you- and although it is corny- I am grateful for you and your blog. Very.

  12. Jessica D Garrison NY

    The picture..the blog itself…your best one yet! I was cracking up…he attacks the! Im taying behind tomm and letting my husband take our older son and I will have a quiet peaceful day with our little ballbuster. its not worth putting him thru it, and last year we never got a chance to relax for even a moment. It was tag team at the MCW. So this year we are trying something new. Have a Happy Turkey Day!

  13. Anonymous

    One more strategy which worked for us — get him physically tired — long walk, marathon trampoline session, turn on music and dance — whatever he likes to do. For some reason we always got better behavior when our dd was tired — not sleepy/cranky or tired & hungry but just to get really active. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! — Meg

  14. Anonymous

    Good luck! Frankly I'm dreading tomorrow…but we'll make the best of it…

  15. Does he have any chew toys he can use to mouth on instead of using the beads for mouthing? Just a random idea. Hope you guys enjoy your time there and all goes as well as it can. 🙂