Visiting Santa with an Autistic or Sensory Sensitive Child

Santa's Hands

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The annual visit to Santa is one of the hallmarks of the holiday season.  But, this fun and happy tradition can be a scary and stressful activity for a child with autism or sensory disorder.

There’s a growing trend across the country to offer stress free time with Santa for special needs children.  Many of them, Like Caring Santa, are sponsored by autism awareness groups like Autism Speaks.  Perhaps you saw the story done last week and published in USA today about a young autistic child that had a very unique and memorable visit with Santa.  Pictures were posted all around social media sites of young Brayden Deely, along with Santa, sprawled out on the floor enjoying a few stress free moments together.  It was a memorable picture and one many parents hope for.

santa

For more information about Caring Santa, please visit the link at Autism Speaks.

Events like Caring Santa are truly making strides in helping children with autism or other special needs to enjoy some of the traditional activities associated with the holiday season.  But, the locations where it is offered are still fairly sparse.  Some parents don’t have the option of a Caring Santa event close at hand, but would still like to give their children the opportunity to visit with Santa.  Follow these tips to have a more successful trip with your child:

  1. Prepare your child with a mental picture – You may have to do some advance work to observe how the Santa in your area operates. Where does the line form?  What are the options that your child has when talking to Santa (sit on his lap, sit beside him, or stand beside him)? What does the area look like?  Will there be photos?  Will Santa have helpers there, such as elves?  The more details you can tell your child about, the more likely they are to feel comfortable.
  2. Plan ahead – During your visit, or a call afterwards, ask if it is possible for Santa and his staff to offer special accommodations for special needs children. Find out if there are any special details that you should be aware of.
  3. Go during a week day – Week days are generally less busy than evenings or weekends. You might be able to avoid long lines, as well as over-stimulating crowds.
  4. Make a schedule for the day – Some children like to know exactly what events will transpire in a given day. You can print off a schedule and point out where the Santa visit is.  Let your child hold it and follow along.
  5. Dress your child comfortably – Resist the temptation to dress your child in the adorable, but uncomfortable, Christmas outfit. Visiting Santa may be a little overwhelming, and an uncomfortable outfit might just be too much.  Save the Christmas outfit for some cute photos another day.
  6. Give your child an incentive for being good – No matter how well you’ve planned, you may still have to wait. Plan ahead of time to have an incentive for being good, such as new toy or a special privilege.
  7. Be open to other options – Despite all your best plans, your child just may not be able to tolerate visiting a mall Santa. Look into schools or churches that offer time with Santa.  Or, even have a family member rent a Santa suit and visit the child at home.  This might turn into an even better tradition for your family.
  8. Read a story or watch a video about visiting Santa – This is another way to help your child to be prepared for his or her Santa visit. We found the video below, which very calmly describes what your child will experience during a Santa visit.

Most importantly, make the visit fun for your child.  If it is too stressful or frustrating than it won’t be enjoyable for anyone.  You’ll want to create fun and lasting memories that your child will remember each year.

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