Up until last year I had never heard of Sensory Santa. I found out about it quite by accident but I'm glad we did. Last year was the first year in six years that we'd been able to get O anywhere near Santa and it was the first time that L would go and talk to Santa. Admittedly L would only go near Santa if O was in between them, but he sat on the chair, stimmed, made sounds to communicate with Santa and we were able to get a family photo with Santa. It was wonderful to see him interacting with Santa in this way.
Sensory Santa for those not in the know is held by shopping centres that host Santa each year. Santa's kingdom is opened up to families with special needs children prior to the normal shopping hours. You do need to book in advance though. The bookings are essential so that there are no queues and no noisy crowds of people. The lights in the area are kept very low and there is very little or no background music. The shopping centre staff are also kept to a minimum.
All of this helps to keep the area as sensory friendly as possible so that children with sensory issues aren't overwhelmed by their environment. It also provides an opportunity for children with special needs to participate in an activity that normally they would struggle with.
When we got to the shopping centre this morning, both O and L were beside themselves with excitement. O eagerly chatted with the security guard and L was bouncing around. Both little superheroes had their noses pressed to the glass window to try and spot Santa. We had prepared them of what we were going to do, and both little superheroes remembered last years experience.
As Santa was running a little bit late, he was parking and feeding his reindeer, we were allowed into Santa's kingdom. O and L had a ball exploring the set and talking to all the animatronic reindeer and rabbits.
L climbed all over Santa's chair, O posed for the camera as Santa's helpers took some test shots, L tried to climb into Santa's letterbox and O practiced telling the time on Santa's clock! Both O and L interacted with the children of another family who were also waiting for Santa to arrive.
Santa's helpers and the shopping centre staff were wonderful, they kept interacting with our little superheroes and were just letting them do their thing. There was no judgement from anyone, our little superheroes could be themselves.
When Santa appeared, O called out hello and L hid!
O was fantastic, she sat next to Santa, gave him the letters that she and L had written and had her photo taken, again!
L on the other hand by that stage was a little over waiting and just wanted to go. As far as L was concerned, he'd had a play in Santa's kingdom, said hello to Santa as he arrived, he didn't need to go and talk to Santa again.
Unfortunately Santa was running quite a bit late and that affected L's concentration. But these things happen. At least we were able to get O to have her photo taken with Santa! Second smiling photo in two years, we're on a roll!
Target had also organised a sensory friendly shopping experience for families with special needs children. The store was opened up at the same time as Sensory Santa, very few staff were in the store, there wasn't any music on and the lights were dimmed. L loved it, he bounced, rolled and did hand stands all though Target without anyone glaring at him. If only all shopping experiences were like this!
Thank you so much Midland Gate Shopping Centre Management, we really appreciated the effort that the staff put into this mornings experience.
If you have children with sensory issues or special needs, I would highly recommend Sensory Santa. Most states have a Sensory Santa Facebook page that lists the times, dates and places were Sensory Santa is being held. If the shopping centre near you isn't holding one, give them a call and spread the word about Sensory Santa, you never know, you might start something!