The Christmas season is one of the most magical time of year. It can also be one of the most hectic and overwhelming times of year not only adults but for children with Autism. It’s a time filled with new lights, sounds, smells, activities, and lots of changes to routines. One Christmas activity that many children with autism and their parents find to be incredibly challenging, is visiting Santa Clause.
Thankful there are places that offer Santa experience specifically for autism children. They go by a few different names depending on the organization that is running it. You will see them called quiet Santa, sensitive Santa, caring Santa or sensory-friendly Santa.
The website Autism Speaks has a great list of these autism friendly Santa’s on their website. You can also do a quick internet search to see if there are any similar events in your area. Unfortunately, many of these events have limited space and they tend to quickly fill up. They also do not offer them at ever mall location so finding one near you might not be possible.
If your only option to see Santa this year is to head to your local mall then don’t worry! I’ve got 7 tips to help make your trip to see Santa more enjoyable for both you and your child.
1. Discuss what they are going to be doing and what they can expect
Before going to see Santa sit down and talk to your child. Let them know where you are going, what they can expect to see, and what you expect from them. For most children with Austims new places and unfamiliar experience can be difficult. Letting your child know what to expect as well as how they should act helps to reduce anxiety and give them some comfort in the predictability.
Positively Autism has a great downloadable story about going to visit Santa ( you can find it HERE) that you can read with your child prior to going to see Santa. If you have to wait in line to see Santa use that time to point out what the other children are doing and to answer any questions your child has. Often if my son sees what other kids are doing it gives him a better idea of what he should be doing and how he should act, which makes him feel more comfortable.
2. Do a dry run
If you are taking your child to see Santa at your local mall then you can go a few days in advance and walk by the area where Santa will be sitting. Most malls will set up Santa’s “North Pole” a few days before Santa arrives. You can use this time to show your child where Santa will be and let them know that they will be coming back in a few days to see Santa. You can also use this time to gauge if your child is even interested or willing to see Santa.
3. Get there early
Find out what time your Santa starts taking pictures and try to get there a few minutes early. This will allow you to beat the crowds and limit your time there. Mornings are also a great time because your child hasn’t had a chance to become overstimulated by daily events and your visit won’t be cutting into a nap time.
4. Go on less popular days
Weekends tend to be the most popular times to visit with Santa. Which means longer wait times and more people. Going during weekdays or early in the holiday season and you will generally find that there are almost no lines! So not only will you not have to worry about a long wait time, but this also means that your child will have more time to spend with Santa and you will feel less pressure to rush through the visit.
5. Talk to the staff
Do be afraid or embarrassed to let the staff know that your child has autism and might need a few extra minutes (which is why its best to get there early). Also, let them know that your child might not want to get on Santa’s lap for a picture and ask if they can take a picture of your child talking to Santa or standing near Santa instead. You’ll find that most of the staff are very accommodating and many have experience with children in similar situations.
6. Don’t force it
This one might be hard but DO NOT force anything to happen. If your child is just not going to sit on Santa’s lap don’t force it. You will just end up creating more stress for not only yourself but also for your child. Which is not going to be enjoyable for anyone.
7. Consider some alternatives
If your child does not want to get onto Santa’s lap for a picture then a good alternative is for your child to either sit on your lap while you sit next to Santa OR for you to sit in-between Santa and your child.
If this strategy works then get the whole family in on the action. You’ll end up with not only a picture of your child with Santa but also a great family photo! it’s a win-win. This the strategy we ended up using last year and it worked out great! Although since it wasn’t planned we totally weren’t dressed properly. But I still love it!
If your child is nonverbal or has trouble talking to people, you can write a letter or draw a picture for Santa. Your child can hand Santa the letter or picture instead of talking to him.
If you think that a visit to Santa just won’t work this year you can mail the letter to Santa and start a new fun tradition of your child mailing a letter and Santa sending one back (that you have written).
Tips for parents
Do not worry about what other people think
This is a time to enjoy with your child. If they take a little longer then the other kids in line or they don’t do exactly what all the other children are doing its okay!! Do not worry about it. Do not let worry about what other people are thinking or your fear of judgment rob you of the joy of the moment.
Make sure your expectations are realistic
This might sound harsh but as a parent to a child with autism, you quickly learn that things are not always going to turn out as you expect them to. Take a second to think about what you’re expecting to get out of this trip and make sure that you aren’t setting your own expectations too high.
You might not end up with that perfect picture of your child smiling on Santa’s lap. And that’s okay! at the end of the day, it really is about enjoying the experience and creating positive memories. If your child just wants to wave at Santa and say hello from a distance then you know what, as long as your child is happy then it was a successful trip!
Do you have any tips or tricks that you use to make your visit with Santa go smooth? If so I would love to hear about them in the comments below!!
WISHING YOU AND YOUR FAMILY A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!