Autism Society of Alabama offering “Sensory Santa” program

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Huntsville, Ala. (WHNT) - For many children, a visit with Santa is one of the highlights of the holiday season.

But for those on the autism spectrum, such a visit can be difficult, even impossible.

Children with autism spectrum disorder often suffer sensory challenges. The bright lights, loud noise and large crowds of a shopping mall can be overwhelming.

That's why the Autism Society of Alabama is collaborating with area shopping malls this year to offer a "Sensory Friendly Santa Claus" experience.

During a sensory Santa session, children and adults can visit with Santa in a less stressful atmosphere.

While these events are coordinated by the Autism Society of Alabama, anyone with sensory issues is invited. There is no charge to meet Santa.

The visits take place when crowds are lower, such as right at opening or even when the mall is closed to the general public.

According to the Autism Society of Alabama, other accommodations include:

  • Decreased noise wherever possible. For example, background music is turned off.
  • Santa talks in a lowered voice.
  • Staff speaks in slow, easy to understand language. They understand children may not want to be touched.
  • Families can have someone save their place in line, rather than forcing the child to stand still until called.
  • Children may stand or sit near Santa, rather than sitting in his lap.
  • Children may also sit in Santa's chair, while he stands behind them for a "photo bomb" or "peek a boo" picture.

Currently, the only sensory Santa session scheduled in North Alabama will be at Bridge Street Town Centre on Saturday, December 5th. This will take place at 3pm by the Christmas tree. There will not be a photographer on site but families are welcome to take pictures as the children visit with Santa.

Decatur Mall had also planned to participate. However, that event has been canceled.

The organization is working to expand the program to more shopping centers. Those interested in participating in the Huntsville area may call (256) 541-1542 or email makingconnectionshsv@autism-alabama.org