Autism News

Sensory-Friendly Santa Coming To Hundreds Of Locations Nationwide

by Shaun Heasley, Disability Scoop | November 29, 2022

Liam Munnelly visits with Santa during a sensory-friendly event at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Ill. in 2017.

As the holiday season gets underway, hundreds of malls will offer individuals with disabilities a special opportunity to meet with Santa Claus without the hubbub that such visits often entail.

Roughly 500 shopping centers across the U.S. will host sensory-friendly events with Santa this year.

The reservation-only opportunities will largely occur outside of normal business hours to provide a less crowded environment and limit wait times.

Santa and other event staff will be trained to accommodate individuals of all ages with disabilities and lighting and music will be reduced to ease sensory concerns, according to Cherry Hill Programs, which organizes the Santa experiences.

Jennifer Schell Podoll, senior vice president of constituent engagement at Autism Speaks, which helps put on the events, said that sensory-friendly Santa offers families of those with disabilities the opportunity to engage in a holiday tradition that many take for granted.

“At Autism Speaks we are dedicated to promoting solutions that help create a world where all people with autism can reach their full potential,” she said. “Our work with Cherry Hill Programs has brought us one step closer to that vision in creating opportunities for every kid to be a kid, and in allowing all families to embrace the magic of the holiday season.”

Most of the sensory-friendly Santa events will be held this coming Sunday and they are open to “people of all ages and abilities,” organizers said. There is no cost to register or attend, but there will be photo packages for sale.

The events are dubbed “Caring Santa” at Simon mall locations and “Sensitive Santa” at Washington Prime Group malls.

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