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Their Voice: Recognizing sensory needs over the holidays

December 2, 2018
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Santa Claus, watches as Tre Galbraith, 5, of Provo, plays with bubbles shot out of a bubble gun by Tre's mother, Megan, during a playtime session with Santa on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017 at University Place in Orem. The sessions with Santa, called Quiet Santa, are for children with sensory sensitivities and developmental disorders, like autism. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

Every time I write about an autism or special needs “friendly” event, I am torn.

The advocate side of me wants to continue to lecture on the importance of community inclusion for all. I sincerely believe that not only does this benefit individuals in our communities with disabilities, but also improves the quality of the community as a whole.

However, there is a realist side of me who often witnesses firsthand what the effects of over-stimulation or sensory overload can do to an individual not equipped to handle it and their family members. As a result, I continue to walk the line between promoting inclusion and being grateful for all of the organizations around our valley and state who do make special accommodations for this wonderful population. If it weren’t for these, many individuals would not be able to experience the sights, sounds, tastes and feel of each holiday, cultural or athletic event or social activity.

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, there is nothing stopping us from moving full force into the Christmas season. And what better Christmas icon that jolly old St. Nick in all of the malls and many stores. Parents of children with all abilities have most likely had the experience of setting a child on Santa’s lap only to be rewarded with screams. This can be the case with any child but magnified for those who have been sensory overloaded just by coming to the mall and waiting in line.

This is why Autism Speaks has once again posted locations and times across the country for sensory friendly Santa visits. Locally, Provo Towne Centre is included in this list. During this session, children within every spectrum of special needs and their families are invited to a private photo session, in order to visit Santa Claus. The visits are free but must be reserved in advance. The date and time for Provo Towne Centre is 9 a.m. to noon, Sunday, Dec. 9. Although University Place is not listed on this site, they have also incorporated a “Quiet Santa” time. Their reservations have filled up, which further confirms the need for these programs.

I also ran across an article recently called “Special-Needs Friendly Santa Tips for Parents” that had some great suggestions for parents of children with special needs. I think that they also are good advice for parents of all children visiting Santa. There were a couple that I selected that I felt everyone should hear.

The article suggests that what Santa wants parents to know is first, they should not use Santa as a threat. Many times, children visit Santa with a fear that they have not been good enough for him to visit.

“Santa is a gift of heart and love—don’t let that become a weapon because you are having a hard day.” Another suggestion: Make special arrangements if needed. If you aren’t able to attend the sensory friendly time, just call ahead and ask for help in making this a good experience for your child.

The last one that I wanted to include is to let Santa manage the time spent with your child. The article wants to remind parents that Santa “has been through this before and is usually well-trained to deal with children struggling to manage emotions.” In fact, he expects that it will happen. So parents, step back and let him do his thing because you are in his arena.

For me, the personal debate continues, but until the day comes when we are all able to be together in comfort in the various places we choose to be, I will continue to be happy to see that someone is looking out for our neighbors who need those accommodations.

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