Visiting Santa is do-able for kids with special needs

child w SantaThe sensory challenges experienced by many children can make a visit with Santa impossible, or at best, uncomfortable. From the noise and crowds of a busy mall, to the waiting on a long line, a fun and fulfilling experience can soon become a very stressful one. The sensory overload can quickly turn the visit upside-down. It is for this reason that a specially trained Santa and a well-planned visit can make all the difference in the world.

The good news

Across the U.S., there are opportunities for kids with special needs to visit Santa in a sensory friendly way. Malls, private organizations such as occupational therapy centers and doctor’s offices, fire stations, and many local disability groups offer programs that feature a specially trained Santa who welcomes children with varying needs. These Santa visits are unhurried, calm, quiet and understanding of the sensory issues of little ones. Parents often say the best part about visiting a sensory special Santa is not having to wait on long lines (which can be an impossible hurdle for many kids with special needs). An advance reservation may be required, so call ahead to learn about any important details that will help your visit go smoothly.

To locate a special Santa, check with the your local mall, town hall, parks and recreation department, fire and police stations, therapy offices, disability organizations, etc., to see if a “Special Santa,” also known as a “Sensitive Santa” or “Caring Santa” is in your area.

If you do see a special Santa, you might want to give the staff a quick heads up about your child’s needs. Or, you can write a short note to give to Santa before your child’s visit. The note can give a brief description of your child (eg. “Johnny is non-verbal but understands if you speak slowly,” or “he wants to tell you something, so please be patient and wait as he gets his words out”). Your note can also state the toys he wants for Christmas, so Santa can mention them and your child can nod in agreement. With a little planning and creativity, the visit can be smooth and successful.

If your child can not leave the house, you may be able to find a Santa that makes home visits. It is worth calling your local disability organization or town government to inquire. If there isn’t a program in your area, perhaps ask a therapist, special education teacher or another parent or relative familiar with your child’s special needs, to transform into Santa and visit your child.

It is a happy time of year, and a calm visit with Santa will undoubtedly make Christmas brighter for your child…and you!


Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and Disabilities – How to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need, select “Help for your child” on the menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. You can also view a Table of Contents of prior posts.

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