Every kid who believes in Santa Claus deserves a chance to sit on the big man’s lap around the holiday season. But while crowded malls, long lines and loud music are the holiday norm for some, for children with Autism and other conditions those season staples can make a trip to see Santa uncomfortable or downright impossible.
That’s why Town Center at Aurora partnered with Autism Society of Colorado and Arvada-based NOERR Programs, the production company behind Colorado Santa visits to bring a sensory friendly Santa experience to Denver-metro kids.
Autism Society of Colorado runs a program called Opening Doors that trains businesses to create inclusive environments for those affected by Autism. Kelsey Kohut, Austism Society of Colorado Development Director, said the organization’s communication with families affected by autism inspired the formation of the program.
“We hear the cries of families saying that they don’t feel included, they don’t feel comfortable going out to a mall, especially, because it’s too loud. It’s sensory overload for their children,” she said. “We met that need by giving these trainings to businesses.”
Creating a low-sensory experience means dimming lights, quieting music and, in this case, making Santa available from 8 a.m. to 10:45 a.m., before Town Center even opens.
Amy Root brought her children Savannah, 4, and Samson, 2, to visit Santa Sunday morning. She said it has become a family tradition to visit Santa at Town Center mall.
While her daughter Savannah does not yet have an Austism diagnosis, she said the low-chaos environment helps really helps ease the overall stress of the holiday season.
“It’s nice in the community to have this area where kids can come and feel safe, and it’s nice to have it near the play area for when we are waiting,” she said.
If not for the Sensitive Santa program, some families would not even be able to visit Santa.
The Martinez family received a flier for Sensitive Santa, from youngest son Fabien’s middle school. The 11-year-old has Down Syndrome, and if not for the Opening Doors program, the long lines would have precluded his opportunity to visit Santa.
Cambray said they would definitely be back next year.
Rohut said attendance has been consistent since Autism Society of Colorado partnered with the mall and NOERR Programs a few years ago. Over the course of Sunday morning, about 30-40 families signed up to visit Santa–some were new, some repeat customers, and many said they would be back to visit Sensitive Santa next year.
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