By: Denys Collins
On December 2nd, 2017, the Autism Society of Alaska hosted their 4th annual Sensory Santa event. This provided families with children on all spectrums of special needs, a more controlled and welcoming environment to visit with Father Christmas. Simple adjustments were made to reduce sensory stimuli and to create a calming environment.
It is December, and the holiday season is in full swing. The trees are being set up and the gifts are being purchased. In malls across the country many children are lining up to tell Santa their Christmas wish list, but for some this tradition does not come easily. For many with autism and sensory processing disorders, visiting Santa can be difficult. The problems are not all on Santa though, many of the issues lie in all that comes with him. These meetings usually take place in busy places with long crowded lines, loud music, and bright lights. This process can be uncomfortable for many children and for those with special needs, it can quickly become unbearable. The Autism Society of Alaska has joined many other communities by offering sensory friendly Santa experiences each year.
Last weekend, we held our 4th annual sensory Santa event. We allowed all families to have the opportunity to get their picture taken with Father Christmas. This year we utilized time slots to manage the flow of traffic more effectively and reduce the need to wait. Families were greeted in our waiting area with dim Christmas lights, the light smell of cinnamon, and morning snacks. Children were able to make their own ornament to take home or play with provided toys such as trains and a light table. For those that needed a space to get away, a tent with a sound machine and pillows was provided. Many children were more than content just to play with the trains and eat cinnamon rolls.
Once they were ready, families were brought back to a separate room to meet Santa. Our Father Christmas is a kind gentle man that quickly soothes children with his soft voice in a separate room. Being a grandfather himself, he has knowledge of the commonly asked for items which children love. Every family is allowed time to get comfortable with Santa with no pressure to rush. We were very lucky this year to have an amazing photographer volunteer his time and talent and capture the special memory for families.
The holiday season is a special time and no child should be left out of family traditions. The Autism Society of Alaska loves being able to offer the Santa experience with a few accommodations to make it accessible for all children. We are thankful for our title sponsor, Greer Tank and Welding; our helper “elves,” our photographer, Brian Schlumbohm; our Santa and his wife, George and Amy Viltrakis; and all of our attendees for letting us share this special day with them.