If you have never been with a child who has autism, or even just kids with sensory issues, you may not understand why a quiet visit with Santa Claus is such an awesome deal.
But it is.
As ABC affiliate WVEC reports, this past sunday Lynnhaven Mall in Virginia invited the Autism Society of Tidewater, and any child with autism, the chance to visit with Santa Claus before the mall opened.
Santa is such a huge part of Christmas for lots of kids, but what some consider the traditional visit to Santa can be a nightmare for others. Many kids, especially those with autism, have an aversion to strangers, loud noises, crowds – anything can trigger an outburst. Especially when they feel over-stimulated by their environment. What may just sound like a door slamming to you can feel like being struck by lightning to someone with sensory perception issues. But it doesn’t mean these children don’t long to sit on Santa’s lap like any other kid.
That’s why mom of two, Penny Madsen was tearing up as she watched her children, Cailyn and Cylus, hop up on Santa’s lap in the quiet Lynnhaven Mall.
“He’s such a great kid,” Madsen tells WVEC 13 News of Cylus who has autism. “But he has such an aversion to other people, strangers usually. It’s really difficult to get him to really warm up to people, so when he just jumped on his seat with Santa, it really tore me up.”
Other mothers and grandparents tell stories of children quickly becoming overwhelmed in everyday scenarios such as shopping, getting photos taken or even just playing at the park.
Janeice Woodson’s son, Jaylan, has autism as well. “Any picture we can get with a smile or with him not crying or spazzing, it’s a good day.”
The quiet visit with Santa Claus was such a hit 25 more families will attend next weekend and another 20 families are on the waiting list.
Seems to me other malls across the country should take a cue from Lynnhaven and start offering similar services. Quiet visits for kids with autism should be considered no different than providing ramp access for kids in wheelchairs.