Sunday 9 December 2018

Sensory Santa 2018

This is our fourth year of visiting a Sensory Santa and three out of the four years both my little superheroes have been in the photo with Santa. Winning!!!

Essentially Sensory Santa, or Sensitive Santa as the sessions are occasionally known as, is held in selected shopping centres that host Santa each year leading up to Christmas. Santa's Kingdom is opened up to families whose children have additional needs prior to the normal shopping centre hours. Families book in advance so that there are no queues and as such no noisy crowds of people. The lights are kept low in the area, there is very little or no background music and very few staff within Santa's Kingdom itself.

All these factors often contribute to children who have additional needs struggling to participate in activities that families who do not have children with additional needs, often take for granted. Too much noise or bright lights and L just shuts down as there is far too much sensory input.

We first heard about Sensory Santa in 2015 when we were living in Perth. At that stage the only way that we could get either O or L to sit anywhere near Santa was to have Daddy Superhero and I in the photo as well. Cue an impromptu Christmas family photo.

In 2016, Santa was running quite a bit late - sleigh mechanical difficulties and he had to feed his reindeer - so by the time that Santa arrived, L was completely over the whole Santa thing. But we did get a wonderful, smiling photo of O and Santa.

Last year, we'd just moved to Queensland. We found a Sensory Santa not too far from where had moved to and both the little superheroes were keen to visit Santa - they were a little worried that Santa might not have realised that we'd moved. O was wonderful as always in assisting L to feel comfortable. She did all of the talking and kept a reassuring hand on L the entire time. The photo was lovely, O was sitting on the chair with Santa while L was sitting on the floor snuggled into O's leg. O is an amazing big sister.

This year, well the Santa that we visited recently was hands down, the best one yet! He either had a lot of experience in engaging with children who have additional needs, had done a sleigh load of training, is a natural or a combination of all three! Both little superheroes were keen as mustard to visit Santa but when we arrived, L shut down. He was able to make to the inside of Santa's Kingdom and then that was it, he parked himself on the floor and started grunting at us. O on the other hand, marched straight over and parked herself on the chair next to Santa!

Santa sensing that L was struggling, turned his back and essentially ignored L - which was the best thing that he could have done. Santa had a short conversation with O about what she would like for Christmas before getting up to go and talk to his elves.

At this point, L was intrigued by the bubbles that one of the elves was blowing into a fan, so up he hopped to go and sit next to the fan. When Santa saw that L was happy and comfortable playing with the bubbles, he snuck back into the area and sat on the far end of the chair next to O. By that stage L was obviously feeling comfortable enough to sit on the chair as up he hopped and snuggled into O and then Santa just went with the flow!

At one point both O and L had their feet tucked up on the chair, so that's exactly what Santa did!

When O and L were trying to catch the bubbles, Santa joined in! When L started dabbing, so did Santa. I would never have thought that we'd have difficulty in choosing which Santa photo we wanted!

It was such a positive experience for both O and L. And even better, L let Santa put the sparkly reindeer antlers that all his visitors received onto his head. This was a first, L won't even give Santa a high five or fist bump. To allow Santa to touch his head, wow!

It makes me so very happy to see more and more shopping centres becoming involved with the Sensory Santa sessions. Families who have never been able to get photos of their children, both the young and slightly older, are now being able to add this yearly tradition to the calendar. 

And touch wood, we've not had a screaming child in a photo in four years! The little superheroes have been all smiles!

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