The hustle and bustle of the holidays can be overwhelming for even the bravest of children, but for children with special needs – it can be especially challenging.
But all children deserve to share in the celebration of Christmas and with some minor adjustments to the surroundings, it can be possible, Lisa Compton said.
Dim the lights.
Find a quiet environment.
Calm the chaos.
Remove overwhelming scents.
And bring families together in an undemanding setting.
Compton is president of SensoryCritters.com and owner of Second Steps LLC, which offers programs for children with autism.
On Saturday, SensoryCritters.com and Second Steps will host a free Santa visit geared to help children enjoy the holidays – without the stress of a mall setting.
If the mall Santa is not for your family due to the noise and the crowds that may create stress and confusion for individuals with special needs, please bring your family to see our Santa, Compton said.
Last year, 47 families attended the event and visited with Santa and his elf, Mary.
Santa and Elf Mary, who wish to keep their identities under wraps, have been visiting with children with autism at a family’s home since 2006. Last year, they celebrated their first Christmas at the Second Steps center, Compton said.
The holiday couple play an important role in making sure these children have their chance to visit with Santa and experience what so many children do this time of year, despite their individual challenges, said Camile Voglewede, director of marketing for Second Steps.
Each child on the autism spectrum is different and unless they are very verbal, they are not able to communicate what their sensitivity is, Voglewede said.
For example, her 9-year-old son, Noquisi Guest, has extreme sensitivity to sound, so combining a busy mall setting with loud voices, Christmas music and bright lights is overwhelming – and not much fun, she said.
Other children might be OK with sound, but struggle with sensitivity to lights. And others might have trouble with touch.
They aren’t lacking the emotion of wanting love and friendship, Voglewede said. They just might not be able to stand the touch to the skin.
So there’s no pressure to hug Santa or Elf Mary, to sit on their lap or to take a photo. It’s about offering every child a chance to experience a Santa visit, she said.
Compton said she hopes to see many families attend the event, which will coincide with the second annual Small Business Saturday celebration.
Goodie bags will be provided to the first 40 children and families can have photos taken with Santa.
There’s no cost to attend, but donations of canned goods, boxes of stuffing and non-perishable items will be collected and placed under the mitten tree, Compton said.
All of the donated items will be delivered to families with individuals who have special needs the weekend before Christmas.