Christmas is just moments away, and kids everywhere are looking forward to making the annual trip to their local shopping centre for the chance to have their photo taken with Santa.
But for some kids with sensory challenges, this much-loved experience is impossible. Or is it?
Sensitive Santa sessions
Westfield now has a solution with Sensitive Santa sessions. This means that kids with special sensory needs can meet Santa in a calm environment where they feel relaxed and comfortable.
Sessions are held before the store opens so the atmosphere is quiet and peaceful. There are no queues and no crowds; lights are low and music tuned down. And Santa is prepared for everyone.
“We’re offering a Sensitive Santa experience so that families can visit our Christmas wonderland and have their photo taken in a relaxed environment, tailored to children with sensory challenges,” Westfield states on the website.
When it’s all too much
For many kids with autism, going to a crowded, noisy shopping centre, with bright lights, Christmas decorations and hordes of frantic shoppers can be problematic.
This was the case for Claire. Her mum explains that her daughter was diagnosed with mid-range autism and cannot cope with loud noise and crowded shopping centres.
“The idea of getting Santa photos was just too daunting,” says Claire’s mum in a video shared by Westfield. “Claire is triggered by lots of bright lights, dinging noises and being stuck on an escalator with someone really close to her.”
Claire’s parents love the magic of Christmas and were sad to think their daughter could not experience the thrill of meeting the jolly man himself. So when they discovered Westfield’s Sensitive Santa sessions, they were thrilled. And so was Claire.
The family was able to visit Westfield out of shopping hours, the lights were low, the music was turned down, and Claire felt comfortable and also delighted to meet Santa.
“She got to meet Santa, and I’m so excited by that,” says Claire’s mum. “Santa was beautiful, and he gave her the space she needed.”
Enjoy the moment
Bookings for the sessions are essential so that families can take the time they need to enjoy their moment with Santa. You can also ring ahead with any particular needs, and the Westfield staff will endeavour to accommodate special requests. There is also a social story that you can download, outlining what the Santa experience will involve.
Head to the website of your local Westfield to see available times and make a booking.