The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

December 12, 2013

Autistic children meet Santa Claus

Support group provides “Sensory Santa” event

DANVILLE — For a child meeting Santa for the first time, it can be a thrilling experience — or frightening. For children with autism spectrum and sensory disorders, it can be almost unbearable.

However, a first-time event last weekend gave those children a chance to share their wishes with Santa, without all of the overwhelming stimuli.

“The event was a success,” said Lori Acree, founder of Puzzled Minds-Vermilion County, an autism support group. “I heard from the parents who came that this is the first time their child has ever been able tolerate a visit with Santa, much less sit near or interact.”

Twelve families were invited and more than half of them showed up, she said.

“One parent was thrilled at her child’s acceptance, and another got a family portrait,” she said. “It was a joy to see the smiles and the relief on the faces of many of the parents who came. The children were all happy, and I think that makes for a very successful day.”

The “Sensory Santa” event at Immanuel Lutheran Church accommodated the children’s special needs. This activity is common in large metropolitan areas, Acree said, but this is the first time it’s been offered in central Illinois.

Children did not have to wait in a long line with noises, lights, and crowds that might hinder their participation. Appointments were taken so children could see Santa individually, which reduced stress, wait times and crowds.

Photos were taken without flash. The lighting was natural, and there was no music. A chair was set next to Santa for children who didn’t want to sit on his lap.

“We tried to eliminate the outside stimuli,” Acree said, adding that she even unplugged the soft drink machine so the humming wouldn’t bother the children.

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