Loud holiday music and lights will be subdued for at least one day during the shopping season to allow autistic children to enjoy the holiday atmosphere without sensory overload.
The Ashland Town Center will become part of the Sensitive Santa program on Sunday and will make its Santa area “sensory friendly” for families with autistic children from across the region.
The mall will turn down the lights and lower the music to give a calming vibe to make the children more comfortable. The children are welcome to wander around and participate in craft activities instead of having to wait in a line. Sensory overload is commonplace amongst children with autism.
“We wanted to create an event that celebrates the spirit of the holiday season and brings a small, but memorable part of the holiday season to families with autism,” said Jaime Bloss, marketing director of the Ashland Town Center. “Sensitive Santa will allow these children to experience the same enjoyment with Santa, but in a much calmer, less intimidating environment.”
Jennifer Hall of Morehead is a mother of an autistic son. “I’m so excited for this to finally be happening close to where I live,” she said. “My son, Draven, was diagnosed at two and every time I try to get him to meet Santa, he gets too overwhelmed and runs away. It’s something I’ve always wanted as a parent and for them to go out of their way to make him comfortable is amazing.”
It is common for children with autism to have a difficult time around unfamiliar people. The Sensitive Santa will be a trained professional who is prepared to handle situations that may arise and be cautious around the children.
Families will be provided with snacks while they wait, and the town center is offering every family a free 4x6 picture of the child with Santa.
SARA JUSTICE is part of Morehead State’s convergent media department.