OREM (ABC4 News) – For a lot of kids, going to see Santa is one of the most exciting parts of Christmas. But for kids with autism, or sensory issues, the experience can be scary.
For the Shields family, the experience of seeing Santa wasn’t always a happy one.
Parent Chantyl Shields says the lights, music, and crowds can be stressful for her kids, who both have sensory sensitivities. However, last year, that all changed because of an experience called ‘Quiet Santa.’
“It’s so much easier on them. We don’t have meltdowns, you know they actually want to talk to Santa, interact with Santa, it’s been a blessing,” said Shields.
The experience provides kids with special needs a calm, quiet space to talk to and spend time with Saint Nick.
“With their sensory sensitivity, we’re very aware of that, and we create a space for them that they can feel comfortable with Santa,” said Cindy Nguyen, Marketing Director at University Place Mall in Orem where the program takes place.
For Utah, with one of the nation’s highest autism rates, the program is a much needed one.
“It’s really important that we have friends on our community that are willing to create an environment where kids on the spectrum can come and have an experience with Santa that they may not have otherwise,” said Laurie Bowen, with Community Outreach at the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism.
Most importantly, ‘Quiet Santa’ allows every child to experience all the joys of Christmas.
Utah currently has the nation’s third highest rate for autism and organizers say they’ll continue to add more spots to the program each year.