1. Check if there is a sensory friendly Santa in your area
Some shopping malls set aside time for a sensory friendly experience for children with special needs. Property management company Simon has a “Caring Santa” program at malls around the country. You can find participating malls here. If your mall is not participating in Caring Santa, call its customer service department to find out whether there is a sensory friendly Santa or time.
2. Consider visiting Santa at a place other than your local mall
The local mall is not the only place to find Santa. Santa visits many other places that may suit your child better. Your may find Santa at:
- Country clubs
- Community centers
- Light festivals
In addition, the Santa experience is available in some areas as part of a train trip or cruise. Check your local newspapers and notice boards to find where Santa is appearing in your community.
3. Make sure Santa knows your child has special needs
Make an index card or short note to hand to Santa to tell him your child has autism or another special need and how that may affect the visit. For example, my child has autism and does not talk or will not sit on your lap, etc. Put your child’s name and photo on the card. Give the card to Santa’s helper just before your visit to Santa.
4. Prepare to wait
No matter where you go to visit Santa, it is likely that you and your child will have to wait. Pack earphones or an iPod for your child to use to block noises. Bring something for your child to read or play with during the wait. Also, pack a drink and a snack. Remember to bring your child to the bathroom before you get in line.
5. Teach your child what to expect
Even if your child visited Santa before, it is important to remind her of what to expect. The organization Santa America produced a video for children explaining what they can expect when they visit Santa.
Social stories are also a great way to teach children about a visit to Santa. Positively autism has a free social story “Going to Visit Santa” that parents can download. If you want to create your own social story, guidelines on what to include are available from the National Autistic Society. For more help creating a social story, check out the list of helpful websites and apps from the Friendship Circle of Michigan.