For kids with autism, the lights and sounds of the holiday season can be a lot to handle. Many parents of autistic kids have never made the trip to see Santa at the mall because they know how unpleasant or confusing waiting in long lines at a loud place can be for their kids. Malls across the country are easing the stress for these kids and parents by offering designated quiet Santa time.
Today reports about the quiet Santa visits that many autistic kids are enjoying this year. Mom Lizette Hernandez knows firsthand how chaotic Santa visits can be. She explains her son's experience at busy malls saying, “If it’s too crowded, too noisy, he wants to go home right away. He’ll cover his ears because of the noise. And if it’s very, very overwhelming for him, if he starts to panic, he will start to cry and have a complete meltdown.”
But to Hernandez’s surprise, this year was much more calm and pleasant for her son. They recently visited Santa during quiet time at Macy’s Herald Square in New York. The visit was specially designed for kids like Donovan with no waiting, lines, or loud noises. The families were able to come before the store opened to the general public and Santa was trained to be engaging but not overly so in order to keep with the calm atmosphere.
Hernandez describes the experience on her blog saying, “It was great. He was able to interact and it brought so much out of him.” She adds, “We were able to take an amazing family photo, which we’d never get to do because he’s either holding onto his ears or panicking.”
Malls that participate in “quiet Santa” events are advised by different organizations like AbilityPath.org that specialize in helping families with autistic children. They advise malls to hold the events during off hours and to dim lights, pause music, stop escalators, and remove as many distractions as possible. Jacqueline Murray, spokeswoman for AbilityPath explains how these events have brightened a lot of family holiday experiences. She says, “For a lot of these parents, this is the first time their child has ever met Santa. This is the first time they’ve ever gotten a picture with Santa. It means so much to the families.”
What do you think of “quiet Santa” events?
Would you like to see more of these types of events geared towards autistic kids at your local mall?