One of the fun parts of the holiday season is a trip to visit Santa Claus at the local mall. It can be hard for many little ones to wait in line – but most manage to do it. Children who have autism, or who have difficulties coping with the bright lights, loud sounds, and big crowds that surround Santa can visit a Sensory-Friendly Santa.
A Sensory-Friendly Santa might also be called a Sensitive Santa or a Caring Santa. Santa looks the same, but is able to behave differently than typical in order to accommodate for kids who have special needs. For example, Sensory-Friendly Santa might sit on the floor, or lie down on the floor, and play with toys with a child who is visiting.
The Sensory-Friendly Santa area is intentionally kept as calm and noise-free as possible. Parents usually need to sign their child up to see this special Santa Claus. Many malls will have Santa ready to visit with kids before the mall opens. This allows children to visit Santa without having to cope with a large crowd.
Another option that some malls use is a separate room that is set aside specifically for Sensory-Friendly Santa. The number of people in the room is intentionally limited. Lights might be dimmed more than you would find in the rest of the mall. There may be very soft music – or none at all. The goal is to reduce sensory overload as much as possible for the kids who want to see Santa.
Autism Speaks has put together a list of where to find a Sensory-Friendly Santa. Half of the list shows malls that will have a Sensory-Friendly Santa on December 4, 2016. Some are called Caring Santa, Santa Cares, or Sensitive Santa. Each one will offer the sensory-friendly environment that your child needs.
There are some things to do before visiting a Sensory-Friendly Santa. The first thing to consider is whether or not your child wants to see Santa Claus. Some kids find the experience very rewarding, while others simply aren’t interested. Ask your child if he or she wants to see Santa before you sign him or her up to do it.
Make sure you call the mall and get your child registered for a Sensory-Friendly Santa visit. Prepare your child for the experience by discussing what will happen when he or she visits Santa. Positively Autism has a Going to Visit Santa story designed for children who have autism. Parents might find it helpful.
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