Have you heard about Sensitive Santa?
You may have seen this story online:
Or this one:
These videos give you a pretty good idea of what Sensitive Santa (or Caring Santa in the US) is all about.
Sensitive Santa refers to a program where shopping centres offer scheduled visits for kids on the autism spectrum to see Santa and to have a photo with him. Held outside of busy shopping hours this initiative allows autism families the chance to experience what many other families take for granted – a visit and a photo with the great man himself.
Depending on the shopping centre they may even be able to dim the lights and tone down the music to make the experience less overwhelming for children on the autism spectrum. And most Santas taking part in this initiative are trained by autism experts so they are aware of potential triggers like touch, smells and textures.
And some, as you witnessed in the videos above, go even further and get on the same level as the kids who come along.
We’ve benefited from visiting a sensitive Santa for the past few years in Newcastle. Being able to plan our visit, not having to wait and the chance to avoid the noise, crowds and sensory overload of the busy Christmas period has been invaluable to our family. It has enabled us to have an annual Santa photo with little fuss and lots of enjoyment.
Sensitive Santa is a wonderful initiative for families with children on the autism spectrum and I really hope it continues to grow and spread far and wide.
But I don’t see why other families could not benefit from the same experience and I truly believe that every Santa should be a sensitive Santa, regardless of the diagnosis/non-diagnosis of a child.
Benefits of Sensitive Santa
- Convenience of booking into seeing Santa at a time that suits you and your family (so you can get the photo BEFORE the kids eat or drink anything that might ruin their outfit!)
- Less chance of sensory overload when visiting Santa as appointments are made outside of main shopping centre hours – which means less crowds, reduced noise, better car parking and decreased stress for all
- No waiting (or only a short wait) as you have a dedicated time for your visit – isn’t that anyone’s Santa photo dream?
- A beautiful, understanding Santa; caring staff; and fellow parents who know EXACTLY what you are going through (understanding goes a long way with special needs parents)
- No pressure to be in and out quickly, especially with potentially unsettled children. You can take your time, get a photo that you love and give your kids an experience they will never forget.
Wouldn’t you agree that any family with a baby or toddler would benefit from these features of sensitive Santa too? Or any family of a child with a sensory processing disorder, a fear of strangers or a child who’s easily distracted?
It just makes sense in this increasingly busy world that all families have the chance to book in their photo so they can prepare their kids for this experience. It makes sense that they can come in before or after regular shopping hours to avoid the rush. And it makes sense for all families to be welcomed and not pressured to race through an experience that should be magical.
I hope that the concept of sensitive Santa continues to grow in future years. I also hope that it becomes the norm rather than the exception.
Above all I hope that someday soon all Santas are sensitive Santas. This initiative is a fabulous one for anyone on the autism spectrum but I know that it could equally benefit every child and every family, regardless of whether they have a diagnosis or not.
Contact your local shopping centre to find out if they are offering a sensitive Santa experience this year. If they’re not, your phone call may prompt them to find out more and put something in place for next year. Here’s more information on sensitive Santa if you would like to get your local shopping centre involved next time around.
Have you experienced sensitive Santa? Would you take your family to visit a sensitive Santa?