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25 Truths Special Needs Parents Wish Others Understood This Thanksgiving

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The holidays can be stressful for anyone, but for kids with special needs and their families, extra challenges sometimes pop up — routine disruptions, food-centric days, questions from unfamiliar relatives and more. It can be an overwhelming time, to say the least.

To help spread some empathy, The Mighty asked parents of children with special needs what they wish others could understand on Thanksgiving.

This is what they had to say: 

1. “My son will eat a hotdog. And that’s OK.”


2. “The fact that my son with sensory processing disorder (SPD) looked at you and acknowledged you is like him giving you a bear hug. He isn’t being rude, and please don’t make him have a meltdown by forcing a hug. Please remember it’s the little things, like him handing you his blanket or favorite toy, that say more than ‘I love you.’ They say, ‘I trust you and want to share the things I love with you.’”

3. “We can only do one get together per day… no matter how many family members want us to be present at their houses. We just can’t; the stress of transition is just too much! (No matter how many offers of goodies you have!)”

4. “When my kiddo is ready to go, we go. It’s not personal.”


5. “Though she has special needs, she’s learned to embrace new social settings. She can use her utensils. She can cut her own food. She can sit at her place setting. She does recognize her name card. And when we all say what we’re thankful for, she can ask you to bow your heads and she will give the blessing. We work hard to ensure she will be independent. What greater time to see what we are thankful for.”

6. “Please don’t ask about his progress and doctor visits. I hate going to any gathering nowadays and being asked all these questions on our child’s medical condition… It would be nice to have a break and enjoy visiting others.”


7. “My child isn’t going to eat your Thanksgiving meal no matter how hard you try. Also, please don’t critique her and her mannerisms. Unless you’re in her life daily, you have no right to say anything at all.”

8. “We will be late. We may not make it. We may pull over with someone having a meltdown on the way.”

9. “I wish [others] could try to understand that each and every holiday, [we] sit and wonder if this will be the last one [we’re] able to share with [our] child. Or the stress of being in the hospital on a major holiday. My child can’t eat Thanksgiving dinner, can’t go to family members’ houses, can’t say what he’s thankful for, can’t celebrate the holiday… Illness doesn’t take a holiday any day of the year. Plain and simple.”

10. “Please don’t try and coax him into trying the mashed potatoes again. Last year’s coaxing ended with him vomiting on the table. We’re working on this, and no matter how much you think you know, we know more.”


11. “My child should have a place at the dinner table because he matters and has a beautiful purpose in this world, and we’re so very thankful for his life. He shouldn’t be parked in front of a television alone watching cartoons while everyone eats, happily ignoring him, because he has a feeding tube or his tracheostomy tube and ventilator might make family members queasy. He matters.”

12. “It’s OK if all my son eats is bread and butter. Peace and quiet on Thanksgiving is better than a breakdown over a nibble of turkey!”

13. “She doesn’t understand why you can’t understand her. She isn’t being rude by walking away. She’s frustrated that she tried to connect with you and you didn’t try to connect with her or acted like what she said didn’t make any sense. Please don’t ignore her. She sees and feels it.” 


14. “He doesn’t like crowds, he likes routine, he hates to try new foods, he might ask you the same question many times… there are so many things we wish others understood.”

15. “If you know my child is special, don’t remind me to keep an eye on him, and don’t yell at him without getting the story first. Your ‘sorry’ to him doesn’t fix what you already did.”

16. “Talk to your kids. Help them understand.”

17. “Holidays can be hard for us. Getting back into the holiday spirit sometimes takes a while.”

18. “Please talk to my son; acknowledge him, and if you talk to him, please be patient and wait for his answer. Just because he may not answer right away doesn’t mean he isn’t thinking or trying to answer. Take a few minutes to make a connection with him and I will be forever grateful!”

19. “Thanksgiving can be a stressful day because central to the celebration is food, and when your child struggles with gastroparesis, food equals difficulty. Thankfully my daughter has found her way to be involved even when she can’t enjoy the bounty. She’s created a coloring contest and word search for everyone to participate in something together.”

20. “My son with autism can’t sit through your long-winded prayer before eating. Get over it.”


21. “Just love my child the way she is and don’t expect any child to act the same.”

22. “It’s our first Thanksgiving home. We were in the hospital last year. I’m really hoping the entire time isn’t spent being asked questions I would need a crystal ball to answer.”

23. “When my child arm flaps due to excitement and randomly splashes food on you, she’s not throwing food or misbehaving but expressing her joy and excitement to be here.”

24. “Know we’re very grateful for the life we have.”

25. “Be thankful! Be accepting! Our children deserve a place where they are accepted for who they are. It’s not about turkey or pie; maybe it’s nuggets and mac and cheese… whatever the meal, if it makes my child feel love then that’s Thanksgiving for us.”

*Answers have been edited and shortened.

Originally published: November 24, 2015
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