US Malls’ Sensory-Friendly Santa Applauded For Ensuring A Comfortable Experience For Children With Autism

By Olivia Reese, Parent Herald December 06, 04:00 am
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Malls in the United States have introduced sensory-friendly Santas for children with autism. The experience catered to these kids' special needs, such as the absence of bright lights and loud music.
(Photo : Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Lining up for Santa Claus in malls can be a grueling experience for children with autism. The flashing lights, loud music and lots of people milling around usually take a toll on kids with the neurodevelopmental disorder and as a result, they lash out. Some malls in the United States have addressed this problem and introduced sensory-friendly Santas.

The Polaris Fashion Place in Columbus, Ohio was one of those malls that presented a sensory-friendly Santa, ABC6 reported. On Sunday morning, the mall was quiet, there were less people and its lights were dimmed -- a perfect condition for children with autism.

Tara Vanhorn, whose young son was diagnosed with autism two years ago, recounted that she took her child to see Santa in the past but it was a horrible experience for him because the place was loud and crowded. The tides have turned for the child on Sunday morning; he loved spending time with Santa and willingly "went up and sat on his lap."

Polaris Fashion Place has been offering Sensitive Santa for five years. The mall opens its doors for special needs children and their families for two hours. A comfortable experience for the kids is guaranteed, with no music and bright Christmas lights.

Parents can ask photographers to not use a flash on their camera so children with autism won't get distracted or bothered. Aside from a photo-op with Santa, kids with autism can also join fun activities such as face painting.

Sensory-friendly Santa was also present at Southridge Mall in Greendale, Wisconsin on Sunday morning. Ashley Knipple, who has a child with autism, said that the experience made her boy feel "more comfortable," TMJ4 reported.

Parents are grateful and have applauded the sensory-friendly Santa in malls and promised that they will come back for next year's holiday season. Both the Polaris Fashion Place and Southridge Mall were part of the 180 malls across the country that offered a sensory-friendly experience for children with autism last weekend.

Studies found that 65 to 95 percent of children with autism have sensory processing difficulties, according to Relate to Autism. Many children with autism are either hypersensitive (registers information readily and easily) or hyposensitive (needs extra input to register details).

These children's sensory organs function normally but the problem lies in how the brain processes the information received by those organs. The major sources of sensory overload for these kids are television, radio, bright and colored moving lights, fluorescent light bulbs, patterns with high contrast, and synthetic odors (e.g. perfume and lotion).

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