Christmas can be a tough time for autism families, because there are so many popular holiday traditions kids with autism just can't handle. One of the most common is a photo with Santa.
Great news! More than 400 shopping centers across the country are hosting sensory-friendly Santa events on Saturday, Dec. 2 and Saturday, Dec. 9. Most events happen right before the mall opens, so that autistic children won't be overstimulated by crowds and the shopping centers can create a sensory-friendly atmosphere with lower lights and soft or no holiday music.
Specially trained Santas, who will take cues from parents and/or caregivers, will allow each visitor to take his or her time to approach Santa, and take photos standing next to or behind the child if they wish, instead of requiring a seat on Santa's lap. Santas can also kneel down next to wheelchairs for photos.
The event requires a reservation, so that children won't have to wait in long lines. Instead, families can arrive shortly before their preset appointment and approach Santa as they are called. Quiet activities will be provided to keep kids busy.
The events, which are available in all 50 states and in five Canadian provinces, are sponsored by Autism Speaks and Cherry Hill Programs, which is a company that provides Santa and Easter Bunny photos in shopping centers and other venues. Meeting Santa is free, but photo packages will be offered for sale.
To find a location near you and reserve your spot, visit this Autism Speaks webpage.
You might also like: 5 Christmas gift ideas for kids with autism.
Heather Anderson is a blissfully happy autism mom and lover of life in Southern California who is on a mission to help autism parents rediscover their happy place.
Please join me on this beautiful autism journey. The Autism Oasis is a fun, supportive and educational community where your personal development is just as important as your children's. You are more than just a caregiver!