For many kids, an annual seating on Santa’s lap is a joyful experience (and for parents, it’s a great opportunity to snap some adorable pictures for Christmas cards!). But all the bright lights, swarms of people, long lines, and background music can simply be too much for those on the spectrum. Several malls and other venues have recognized that.
“All kids deserve a chance to tell Santa what they want for Christmas,” Melissa Schissler, the director of ACI Learning Centers in the Edmond, Oklahoma area said. And that is exactly what “Autism-Friendly Santa,” “Caring Santa,” and other related programs offer kids who are differently abled.
These events entail dimmed lights, low to absent music, and reduced crowds (for example, shops within the malls may be closed, as is the case for Summit Mall’s Caring Santa event). Along with that, Santas may be specially trained. Waiting in lines may be eliminated, as venues might provide craft stations for kids to pass the time. Venues may allow appointments to be set. Kids may be able to approach Santa on their own terms, too without people urging them to “hurry up.”
“There is no pressure,” said Kathy Smith, the marketing director of the King of Prussia mall in Philadelphia.
Needless to say, many autism families embrace these free, unique opportunities and sincerely appreciate the venues’ thoughtfulness. In a voice choked with tears, one mom explained, “Nobody looks at [my son] differently. Everybody is compassionate.”
And in a world where that is far too often not the case, that’s something to get excited about.
Have you ever participated in a program like this? Share your experiences with us!
A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.