Meeting Santa Claus during the festive period has been made a little easier for families with sensory sensitive children including those on the autism spectrum.
‘Sensitive Santa’, a national initiative coordinated by Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), aims to provide a low stress, quieter surrounding to help sensitive kids enjoy the experience.
Aspect’s National Manager of Practice Tom Tutton says Sensitive Santa is making the popular meet-and-greet event more inclusive.
“It’s making the typical environment much more accessible,” he says.
“Families get to do what most people take for granted which is making a difference to their lives.”
The program has been running for the last four years in several shopping centres around Australia.
It’s set-up in a less dramatic fashion which involves reduced lighting and music, and removes waiting times by allowing bookings.
“It isn’t an ‘out of the blue’ surprise (for children on the spectrum), it’s more predictable,” Mr Tutton says.
Aspect’s Engagement Coordinator Thomas Kuzma, who has Autism, has played a key role in fine tuning the initiative each year.
“By having this job opportunity, I find myself being more comfortable being in the world we live in,” he says.
As a child, he went through the similar struggles many children face while trying to get the perfect photo with Father Christmas.
Mr Kuzma, 26, who has been on the spectrum for the past decade says he has been able to make a difference.
“I realised while being on the spectrum there are many things to deal with which is one of the reasons why this Sensitive Santa has to be carried out right,” he says.
“It feels great to finally see progress that wasn’t there 10 years ago.”
Mr Tutton is optimistic about the future of the initiative and believes it will continue to evolve with the help of parents and other stakeholders.
“It’s about being aware of where the challengers are and making it a better situation,” he says.
“There’s a worldwide movement for more inclusion so our confidence is definitely up.”
Sensitive Santa is expected to feature in about 50-100 shopping centres nationwide, contact your local complex to find out if they will host the program.