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SENSITIVE SANTAs: How autism is changing society

I just pulled up eleven stories that testify to the loss of childhood as we’ve always known it. It is the time of year to once again promote awareness, acceptance, and institutionalizing of AUTISM/SENSORY ISSUES IN CHILDREN.

EVERYWHERE malls are providing time for disabled children to visit a “Sensitive Santa” with low lights and noise levels and no crowds.


While I’m happy for families to have this opportunity, it’s yet another opportunity for the media to assure us that nothing is really wrong. All we need to do is accommodate these kids.

Notice the language: ‘sensory overload,’ “autism spectrum,” “gluten-free,” “stress-free,” “calming environment,” “sensory processing disorder,” ‘major meltdowns.’ This is the modern lexicon. Fragile children are the future for America.

Two stories from Canada are a sad commentary on what's happening….

Cambridge, Ont.:Now in its sixth year, Sensitive Santa attracts more families every holiday season — prompting a fourth day to be added last year. There are spots for 100 families, which usually bring about 200 children including siblings. "We've never not been full," Hyland said.

Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.:Northgate has been hosting the event for a number of years, and during that time, its popularity has grown to the point where a second session was needed to meet the demand….

Dec 1, 2018, (Australia) Perth Now: Sensitive Santa a gift to children with autism in Perth Children with autism will be given the opportunity to meet with Santa away from the noisy crowds this Christmas to ensure their wish list makes it to the North Pole….

Ocean Keys Shopping Centre has had a quiet word to the elves and has organised Father Christmas to meet with children on the autism spectrum in a calm, quiet environment. … “Sensory overload is something we need to manage in busy places. …

“He can get panicked and if people are too close may yell at them or he might end up curling in a ball on the floor.”

Sensitive Santa at Ocean Keys Shopping Centre will take place on December 3 and is open to families of children on the autism spectrum or with additional needs.

Nov 30, 2018, Elko (NV) Daily Free Press: What's Happening Around Elko Sensory-sensitive Santa event at hospital Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital will host Cocoa & Cookies with the Clauses on Dec. 1. The first half of this free event will be a sensory-sensitive visit with Santa designed for those impacted by autism. This session will run from 10 a.m. to noon, and is presented in collaboration with Rehab Services of Nevada.

Nov 30, 2018, New Media, U of MS: UM’s Hill Program Presents ‘Sensory Sensitive Santa’ Event As many children enjoy eating sugary snacks, listening to jingle bells and accompanying their parents to the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, there are those who need a more inclusive environment to relish in the joys of Christmas.  The University of Mississippi Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders is hosting its inaugural “Sensory Sensitive Santa” event for children who have sensitivities to the stress of crowds, noise and various foods to come enjoy a day with Santa Saturday, Dec. 1 at George Hall. The event begins at 9 a.m. and concludes at 1 p.m. Pictures with Santa—or a holiday scene if children are sensitive to Santa’s character—are available with a suggested donation of $25. The event will feature gluten-free snacks and a quiet, stress-free, line-free experience for all children. … “I know how easy it is for some children to get overwhelmed with lights, crowds, waiting in line and being rushed,” she said. Amy Livingston, a Hill program certified speech pathologist and instructor, said they will have set appointment times to avoid waiting in lines. There will also be various sensory items, like crash pads, trampolines, weighted blankets and fidget toys available for those who need to access them. … “I’ve heard of events like this taking place in other cities, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time anything like this has ever happened in Oxford,” she said.

Nov 29, 2018, Short Hills, NJ: Sensory Sensitive Santa Event Sunday At Short Hills Mall 'Toned-down' visit caters to children with autism and special needs. Those children with special needs that may find the stimulation of a visit with Santa daunting will have the opportunity to experience a more manageable, scaled back version on Sunday at the Mall at Short Hills. Sensory Santa, a toned-down visit with Santa for children with autism and other special needs takes place at the brand new Santa's Flight Academy holiday set located in Grand Court. Lights and music will be turned down to help create a calming environment for kids. Santa visits will begin at 8 a.m., two hours before regular mall hours and families can pre-register online to help expedite the process. According to organizers, children within every spectrum of special needs and their families are invited to a private photo session, to experience the time-honored tradition of a visit with Santa Claus during dedicated hours. Visits with Santa are free. Photo packages that capture holiday memories will be available for purchase at the event.

Nov 29, 2018, Biddeford (ME) Journal Tribune: Sensory Santa to make visit in Biddeford Getting a picture taken with Santa can be a stressful situation for children with sensory processing disorder – the bright lights, loud music and crowds of people can be overwhelming. Recognizing the needs of those with sensory processing disorder, a local chiropractor is hosting a special event this weekend called Sensory Santa. For those with sensory processing disorder, sensory information goes into the brain but does not get organized into appropriate responses, according to the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder. According to the STAR Institute, educational psychologist and pioneering researcher Anna Jean Ayers likened sensory processing disorder to a neurological traffic jam, preventing certain parts of the brain from receiving information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. “Children with sensory issues may be over sensitive to sensory input, under-sensitive, or both,” said Dr. Rebecca Brouillette, of North Star Chiropractic in Biddeford. After talking with local parents who said they were unable to take their children to see Santa because the stimulation was too much, she was inspired to host Sensory Santa at her office at 57 Jefferson St. from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday. At the event, children can enjoy a visit with Santa in a low-stimuli environment, one with no crowds or music. All ages are welcome, said Brouillette. … Each participant will get a 10 minute time slot to get their picture taken with an understanding Santa in a separate, quiet room. If someone isn’t comfortable sitting on Santa’s lap and would rather sit on the floor, that’s okay, she said. …

Nov 28, 2018, (Canada) Kelowna (BC) Daily Courier: Sensitive Santa skips holiday hubbub Children with autism can pay a special after-hours visit to a 'Sensitive Santa' this Sunday at Orchard Park mall. The lights, hustle, and hubbub surrounding a typical grotto can be too much for kids with autism. "Before Sensitive Santa, between long lines, loud music, and large crowds, our boys would become so overwhelmed they could not make it to see Santa without major meltdowns," says Jeannine Dionne, a mother of two. "Now, visiting Santa is one of our favourite Christmas traditions," Dionne says.

Nov 28, 2018, Corpus Christi, TX, KRIS-TV: La Palmera set to host Sensory Sensitive Santa event

La Palmera Mall is making sure every child is able to tell Santa their Christmas wishes. The mall has teamed up with Santa and non-profit Autism Speaks to host two sensory-friendly meet and greet events. The event, called Santa Cares, will run from 9-11 a.m. on Dec. 2 and Dec. 9, and will have the music inside the mall turned off, the lights dim and no lines. Reservations are required. One mother says she’s happy La Palmera Mall is hosting an event like this and hopes other places in our community will do the same.

Nov 28, 2018, Lebanon (PA) Daily News: Christmas kicks off early: Here's where you can see Santa this weekend in Lebanon Sensitive Santa – Saturday, 9-11 a.m.

A “sensory friendly” Santa experience for children with Autism spectrum disorders and other special needs. Quiet surroundings, no crowds and privacy during your visit at Developmental and Disability Services of Lebanon, 1126 Walnut St., Lebanon. Appointments strongly encouraged. Call 717-274-3493.

Nov 27, 2018, (Canada) Kitchener (ON) Record: ‘Sensitive Santa’ allows children with sensory issues to enjoy holiday tradition

Sensitive Santa is a special event the City of Cambridge hosts every winter in partnership with the mall, creating a sensory friendly environment for children who would be too overwhelmed by the traditional mall Santa scene. All the holiday hoopla is missing when Santa visits the Cambridge Centre before the mall doors open. The calm is intentional. Sensitive Santa is a special event the City of Cambridge hosts every winter in partnership with the mall, creating a sensory friendly environment for children who would be too overwhelmed by the traditional mall Santa scene.

The key is creating a space without the noise, bright lights and crowds that can be challenging for children with social, emotional or behavioural needs. It's free and open to all children with a disability, with a lot of children with autism coming out to see Santa.

Now in its sixth year, Sensitive Santa attracts more families every holiday season — prompting a fourth day to be added last year. There are spots for 100 families, which usually bring about 200 children including siblings. "We've never not been full," Hyland said.

Nov 27, 2018, (Canada) Sault Ste. Marie (ON) Bay Today: Sensitive Santa makes a holiday tradition special for children with Autism

Normally at this time of day, Northgate Shopping Centre is closed to the public. But on this particular Sunday, something magical is happening at centre court. Children are having a visit with Santa. There are no flashing lights or loud music playing, ringing of Santa’s bells, or even shoppers to distract the youngsters. … 

“During our autism friendly visits with Santa, each family gets around 10 minutes of alone time with Santa without the sensory overload.” said Paula Hampton a family service worker at  Hands.

“Santa is very calm, very gentle. He sits back and waits to see what they need from him first. It is the only time that they can comfortably come and see Santa. A lot of the children can’t even come into the mall, let alone come to a space where there is a lot of other kids around, and other parents, and all the lights and music. It is too overwhelming for them,” explained Hampton.

Santa makes sure that those who aren’t comfortable coming all the way into the shopping centre, don’t miss out.

“Santa will come out and meet them in the hallway to say hi, so he adapts to what their needs are,” said Hampton.

Northgate has been hosting the event for a number of years, and during that time, its popularity has grown to the point where a second session was needed to meet the demand….

“We are thrilled to be able to create a magical experience for children and families that may otherwise not be able to take part in this Christmas tradition.”

The second and final Sensitive Santa visit is scheduled for Sunday, December 2nd. Only a few spots remain available.

Nov 26, 2018, Public Notices Ohio: Mall plans Sensitive Santa event LIMA — Sensitive Santa will be available for children with special needs from 9-11 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, at the Lima Mall, 2400 Elida Road. A Sensory-Friendly Experience for Children with Special Needs Betsy Billingsley, Marketing Director at Lima Mall said: “Visiting Santa Claus is one of the most joyous holiday experiences of the season for young children and their families. It’s important to Lima Mall that children of all ages and abilities have the opportunity to meet Santa. Our ‘Sensitive Santa’ event minimizes traffic and wait times, while subduing music and lights, assuring a sensory-friendly, calming experience for Lima-area children.”

Sensitive Santa is an event for families with children with all spectrums of special needs, providing a more controlled and welcoming environment to visit The Santa Photo Experience. Simple adjustments are made to reduce sensory stimuli, including muted lights, music and wait times for Santa and activity tables.

Sensitive Santa is held in partnership with Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the cause, prevention, treatment and cure for autism.

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