Bringing your child to the mall during the holidays can be a little scary. Bringing your child with autism to the mall during the holidays is a downright nightmare. With all the chaos and loud noises and that big strange man in a red suit, a child who is sensitive to light, sound, and excessive stimulation will undoubtedly not enjoy the holidays at the mall.
Some malls are starting to understand this and offer “Sensitive Santa” time. Northtown Mall in Blaine, Minn. opened its doors early one day to give children with autism and their families the opportunity to partake in a family tradition at Christmas time that is not always easy for a child with autism to participate in. They dimmed the lights and turned down the music to make the atmosphere less startling and stimulating. Instead of waiting in lines, the children were able to color or walk around the mall with their families. This made the experience much calmer and more appealing to a child with autism.
The Northtown Mall went even further by giving out pamphlets with detailed accounts of what could be expected when their family got to the mall so that a child who relies so heavily on routine would know the routine before experiencing it. They also asked the parents to fill out forms so that Santa would know what the children wanted.
Other malls nationwide have started recruiting Santas with a “low-key” demeanor as well. They know what signs to look for if a child is overwhelmed by the experience or is curious about it and may want to explore the idea of sitting on Santa’s lap. At much smaller events, some Santas are able to let the children have time to decide how they want their experience to go and at what pace. An opportunity like this is wonderful and even more ideal than bringing the child to a mall.
So this article may be a little late this year, but do some searching in your community next year for sensitive Santas at the malls near you or at community centers.