The photos were taken free of charge, and the children also received a treat from Santa. They had a chance to do a simple craft and were given a gluten-free snack.
Jessica Nemecz, a counselor who works with families of children with autism and children with high-functioning autism, wasn’t able to attend the event, but she has high praise for the concept.
“I think Sensory Santa is a wonderful resource and support for families in our community,” she said. “It’s nice when someone recognizes the challenges of children with special needs and provides a traditional event like seeing Santa while providing accommodations based on those challenges.”
Acree said all of the parents loved the event, and she hopes to continue and expand the activity next year, if there’s enough interest.
The photographer was Annette McMillan of Hoopeston, who runs Sew Shoot Me, and Santa was portrayed by Scott Meredith of Petersburg. Margo Watson of Watseka helped with the event as well, and gave Acree the idea for it.
“It is so wonderful that people came from some distance away to support the families in our area,” she said.
About the group
Puzzled Minds-Vermilion County officially was started in the summer of 2012.
“I started it because I have traveled so many paths, often dead ends, trying to get a diagnosis and services for my child,” Acree said. “I just felt frustrated and alone, because of all the red tape, dealing with insurance, changes in providers, etc.”
Acree began this journey when her child was 2, and she quickly learned to become an advocate.
“I figured, if I have been through this, I can help others,” she said. “Plus, I feel sometimes like I can use some support. It can be tough, lonely, and frustrating — as well as joyous and wonderful.”