Santa Goes Sensory-Friendly At Events Nationwide

by Shaun Heasley, Disability Scoop | December 3, 2021

Rian Bee helps his foster son Justin, who has autism, as they meet Santa at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Ill. in 2017. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

With Christmas just around the corner, Santa Claus is set to turn down the music and make other adjustments at hundreds of events across the country designed to better accommodate kids with special needs.

More than 550 sensory-friendly Santa experiences will be held this month at malls and other shopping centers from coast to coast.

The events will allow children to visit and have their picture taken with Santa in a more sensitive environment, organizers said, where the lighting will be tweaked, the volume will be lowered and crowds will be limited.

“Staff, including Santa characters, are trained to interact with children living with special needs. Staff will take cues from parents and/or caregivers who know the (child’s) ability and preferences,” according to Cherry Hill Programs, which puts on the sensory-friendly Santa events along with Autism Speaks.

Santa, his elves and all other staff will be vaccinated for COVID-19 unless they have medical or religious exemptions in which case they must be tested, Cherry Hill Programs said.

Face masks are not required unless they are mandated locally for Santa or guests, who can choose to sit with Santa or distance themselves, organizers said.

Jennifer Schell Podoll, senior vice president of constituent engagement at Autism Speaks, said the sensory-friendly Santa experiences are a way to ensure that all families can engage in holiday traditions.

“Events like Santa Magic help us make a meaningful impact in communities by creating welcoming environments for everyone to feel understood and accepted,” she said.

Reservations can be made online for the “Sensory Friendly Santa Magic” experiences, which will be held Dec. 5-12.

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