Autism friendly visits with Santa growing in popularity in shopping malls

CC BY by ninahale

Santa Claus is coming to town! 

In the USA and Canada there are three things that mark the coming of Christmas. The first is watching the Santa Claus parade, either weathering the cold or on at home on TV. The second is the visit to the major department store window display in town. The third is the trip to the local mall to have a visit with Santa. Until recently this last personal meeting with Santa Claus was not possible for many children on the autism spectrum. All that is beginning to change.

According to the Huffington Post, malls across Canada are now offering special ‘quiet’ Santa visits for kids with autism, CTV News reports. In Canada, nine malls managed by Oxford Properties offer the program — eight more than last year. The original mall was located in Calgary. Five of these are in the Greater Toronto Area.  A few malls in the U.S. are also offering similar programs, according to 13News Now, in Virginia Beach. Just how many and what cities have been harder to identify.

The Toronto Star reported Elena Price, marketing director at Mississauga’s Square One Shopping Centre. as saying,

“We spoke with our marketing team from Southcentre Mall and, based on their program last year which was so successful, all the Oxford Properties (malls) decided it would be an easy program to implement. We thought we could do this and make such a difference with these families and their holiday experience.”

Parents at the Scarborough mall told CTV Toronto they’re happy that their kids can take part in the holiday fun. Frank Heaney said,

“My son has real issues dealing with crowds, so as a result meltdowns are pretty common for him. So having a nice, quiet moment is well worth it.”

Andrea Lombardo expressed similar feelings telling CTV,

“My son was smiling and he actually smiled in the picture, which doesn’t happen that often, so it was great.”

These special visits usually take place before opening hours. Similar to autism friendly theatre productions, booklets are usually prepared to help families explain to their children what will be happening. Waiting areas near Santa are provided before the appointment which is scheduled for 15 minutes to avoid additional pressure or anxiety.

UPDATE:

The following post was uploaded today by the Facebook Group Autism Parents Support & Discussion Group

“I received an email earlier from the general manager of the Augusta Mall in Georgia. I sent the mall an email via their website and asked them about a sensitive Santa telling them about the other malls doing it and why some of us really want our kids to be able to have an actual nice pic with Santa. I was in tears when he replied and is wanting my help informing support groups and others who could come to it. He will inform me of the dates and time but said it would more than likely be before opening hours at 8 or 9. Please if you know anyone in this area let them know and I will post the dates and time of it.”
And it is not just malls that are participating.
Last weekend, the Capital Gazette reported that Applebee’s hosted the RISE for Autism Foundation’s “Sensory Friendly Pancake Breakfast with Santa.” This is the second time the event has been held but last year’s breakfast was used as a fundraiser. Executive Director Cheryl Antlitz said this year’s event was meant to serve the autism community and,

“It gives parents a chance to come out and enjoy their breakfast and not have to deal with any stares or judgment. We’re letting the kids be kids.”