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Thanksgiving and autism: How teaching a lesson on gratitude taught me a lesson!

thanksgiving autism blog

I’m often thinking about gratitude in my job on a daily basis. In fact, when people say to me how amazing it is that I teach kids with autism all kinds of different skills, my first thought is always how grateful am I to be learning from the kids that I work with. Yes, that’s right, I teach kids with autism but they all teach me so much more!

This upcoming thanksgiving has once again reminded me of this. In honour of thanksgiving, we decided to work on the theme of “thankfulness” at Breakthrough Autism this month. Each child’s programming was customized based on their needs. For some kids, it was working on exchanging the picture symbols (i.e., PECS) “I love you, mom” or “I love you, dad” and for others it was working on how to express gratitude across three progressive steps:

1) Teaching kids to talk or write about specific things that they are thankful for
2) Teaching kids to talk or write about people that they are thankful for
3) Teaching kids to talk or write about experiences that they are thankful for

We systematically began working on these skills by first modeling to the children lots of examples gratitude (e.g., one staff helping another staff with a job in front of the child and then saying “I am thankful for Michelle’s help today. I couldn’t have finished my work without her”). Then we asked each child to come up with some examples of their own. Last, we gave them lots of positive feedback about the examples that they came up. What the kids came up with, absolutely astonished us. They came up with so many unique and thoughtful things to be grateful for that I was blown away! Here are just a few: family, going to the park, and food (because some kids don’t have any).

Opening up the discussion on gratitude, opened up the flood gates! By the end, the kids were teaching me a lesson gratitude. Lesson learned! Check out this picture for some of the incredible things that they came up with!

Speaking of holidays, Hallowe’en is just around the corner! Click here to read about some important tips that everyone in our community should know to fully embrace autism acceptance in all of our neighbourhoods! And most importantly, to help each child with autism enjoy hallowe’en to the fullest! Let’s all spread the word to move beyond autism awareness into autism acceptance!

Nancy Defina-Marchese, M.A., BCBA

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