Many kids look forward to their annual meeting with Santa Claus to update him on their preferred presents, while parents look forward to snapping that picture. Sometimes children with autism or other sensory issues need a little tweak to this holiday tradition. That’s where Silent Santa comes in.
Connections Therapy Centers in Idaho Falls, Idaho is holding such an event for the second year in a row. It allows a more comfortable environment for kids who need one. The event this year will have social distancing measures and masks in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
CTC spokesperson Cala Alexander told EastIdahoNews.com, “It’s an opportunity for kids that can’t have that typical Santa experience. They can visit Santa kind of on their own terms.”
Alexander says moms shared their gratitude with the center after they held their inaugural event last year, so they decided to do it again.
The Santa at this event allows kids to approach him at their own pace, with a sensory path including toys to help them feel more comfortable meeting Santa. Families are scheduled to come every 15 minutes.
CTC therapist Sheri Elkington says these sorts of events are important for kids with sensory issues, explaining, “These children can’t filter out noises and other stimuli. During Silent Santa, we can control lights and noise … it allows the child with autism to meet Santa and parents can enjoy a little holiday activity that many of us take for granted.”
A similar program has had success in Nova Scotia up in Canada, as well. Sunnyside Mall in Bedford has been holding Silent Santa festivities since 2014, when a staff member and customer whose children have autism came up with the idea. It allows children and adults with autism to interact with Santa in a sensory-friendly way. The event is held in an unused store with two Christmas trees, dimmed lights, and a comfortable seat. There’s also wrapping paper over the windows so families can feel a sense of privacy.
Sherry Hardy, whose son Cole has autism, spoke with the CBC last Christmas about his positive experiences with the event, which have been important because he’s always loved Santa.
“He’s one of the first Christmas figures he’s taken to,” Hardy said. “I say he’s non-verbal, but when he’s highly motivated he will say spontaneous words, so he has said ‘Danta’ for Santa pointing at Santa — it’s kind of a powerful thing.”
The mall’s marketing manager Jill Mason says it’s important to have safe spaces in public areas because things that may seem accessible aren’t always that way for everyone.
Proceeds from photos with Santa have been donated to Autism Nova Scotia.
Autism Nova Scotia says they’ve still found a way to put on a similar event this year. Their Facebook noted that Halifax Shopping Centre is doing virtual Silent Santa meetings on Zoom.Whizzco