Going to see Santa can be a tough experience for children with autism and their parents. The long lines and noise can cause anxiety. One Omaha mother created a sensory-friendly event to help.
It’s the moment many children and their parents look forward to every year, going to see Santa. For a child, they get to tell Santa what they want for Christmas. For a parent, they get a priceless photo op, but this moment sometimes doesn’t happen so easily, especially if your child is autistic.
Christy Allen knows that firsthand. Her 3-and-a-half-year-old son Camden is autistic. “Normally in big crowds he has a little bit of anxiety. Last year we had to wait two hours and that same place and that was pretty tough.”
So she was thrilled when she heard about a sensory-friendly Santa event going on Sunday at Santa’s Workshop at Shadow Lake Towne Center in Papillion.
Renee Kiernan helped organize the event. She also has an autistic child. “We just wanted this to be a nice quiet atmosphere for the families to be able to participate and meet Santa for the first time.”
Parents could sign up for their children ahead of time knowing there wouldn’t be large crowds, flashing lights or loud music. There were also fun stations for the children. Camden played until Santa was ready. So how did it go?
Well, when the family first walked up to Santa, Camden was upset, but they were able to take their time. Eventually, Camden warmed up to the idea and gave a big smile. “It’s just so nice to be with families that understand and have compassion for us and we are just so very thankful,” said Allen.
She was finally able to get the picture she always wanted. “Yes, this is the first one that he was smiling. Every other one has not been so cute. This is one we will keep forever and have it framed.”
The Autism Society of Nebraska-Omaha Support worked with Kiernan to make this happen. 300 kids were able to visit with Santa. They hope to make this an annual event.