Looking back a few years ago, setting up a meeting with Santa almost always left you planning a trip to the local mall where you would wait in line, pay an arm and a leg for a package, and hope that your children were happy for the 30 seconds that they got to meet with Santa. The scene from “A Christmas Story”, where the younger brother Randy sits down on Santa’s lap, immediately starts bawling and then is pushed on down the slide, always comes to mind. Things have changed a lot and we now live in a time where finding a place NOT to run into Santa is almost harder than trying to find him. Almost everywhere you look from schools to town festivals to even various outlet stores now have places to meet Santa. But even if you can find one of those places where waiting in line is not an issue, you probably still have crowds, and for many kids, Santa can be a pretty intimidating guy for at least a few years. So, what are the best options for our kiddos on the spectrum to go meet Saint Nick for the holiday season?
- Go on Off Hours
For our first few years as parents, even before the sensory Santa meetings were a thing, we used to go to a fairly local mall that was never very busy. Even during the Holiday rush of shopping, if you went on a weeknight, you were lucky if there were more than two other families there to see Santa. Living in the middle of nowhere, this was still a chore to work around work schedules, but it was worth it to avoid any meltdowns caused by waiting and too many people.
- Sensory friendly Santa Experiences
Most malls, and even some other locations now host specific events or times to meet with Santa that are touted as “sensory friendly”. This generally means that you are given a specific booked time slot to see the big guy in red. This may even take place before regular mall hours so crowds in general are not around. Make sure to look early in the season for this, as many are only hosted on specific dates. If you are interested, reach out to your location board of DD or do a google search for sensory friendly Santa near me and you should be able to find something.
- Bring Santa to Your House
The last, but certainly not the least option is our go-to every year. It was a few years back that we were with a group of friends at our local community Christmas night, which included the opportunity to meet and get a picture with Santa. Most of our kids were still at the age where Santa was extremely terrifying. Mix that in with a 30-minute wait, pushing bedtime, and a crowd of people. You can guess how well it all went. After that horrible experience, one of our friends’ husbands said that he knew the Santa that was there that night, and maybe the next year we should just book him for a private event ourselves. Pretty sure this was one of the best ideas anyone has ever had. The following year, we put it all into motion. We offered to host (easier for Damion to be in a familiar setting anyway). That same small group of families join in and we all pitch in to have Santa come to us. We set up a little photo area and when meeting Santa is done, we have a party. The setting is familiar, the crowd is small, there is no rush, and the kids get to play together for a bit when it is all over. It may not be a full cure for the kids who are still scared of Santa, but the atmosphere is much less intimidating for the kids overall. If you can swing it, it really is an ideal set up for all kids, especially those with ASD.
However you decide to meet Santa this year, I hope it works out well for your family. If you are stressing about the event and can’t work out or find one of the suggestions above, there is a chance that you could always just ask where you are looking to go if they would do a special accommodation to help make it more sensory friendly for your child. The worst they could say is no, but it might be worth a shot. Worse comes to worse, you can still go to a normal event and just make the best of it. Smiling or not, my kids are required to get a photo with Santa every year, even if that means I am sitting behind their crying faces (yes, I am one of those moms). Luckily, we seem to be passed that stage and I am happy to say that with our current go-to set up, my kids are already looking forward to our annual visit with Santa this year.
The pictures below are some of our Santa experiences before we switched to home visits. Needless to say, you can see the difference.