Sensory-friendly Santa visit gives families quiet time with St. Nick
Children on autism spectrum get to avoid holiday noise, foot traffic
Families that have children with autism had a chance to spend some quiet time with Santa at the Stone Road Mall in Guelph Sunday before doors opened to the general public.
Autism Connections Guelph (ACG) organized this year's Sensory-Friendly Santa Experience so that families could take pictures with Santa without the often overwhelming noise and foot traffic malls generate this time of year.
"It's enough of an issue that families avoid the mall if they have a child or even an adult on the spectrum," said Courtney Trento, founder of ACG.
"Right now, it is much quieter, there aren't tons and tons of people, and it gives families a private opportunity with Santa."
Families signed up for the event in advance and had 10 minutes with Santa.
It was Jacquie Hulm-Mehagan and her family's first time at the sensory-friendly event, and she said it was also the first time they've visited Santa in several years.
"Going to see Santa is a difficult process with [my daughter] Kenna or any child on the autism spectrum," she said.
"Having [the mall] quiet is fantastic. No extra music in the mall, no extra people, and so no sensory overload for her makes it possible."
Jennifer St. Pierre and her family have attended the sensory-friendly event for the past three years. She said she and her husband — and even Santa himself — have seen their daughter Emilie grow and change.
"Emilie has developed incredibly over the last three years," she said.
"The first year, it was minimal. We had to sit with the girls. [But] this year was the first year that we could get Emilie to sit with Santa on her own and take a picture on her own."
St. Pierre says these sorts of events provide a positive experience for her daughter and her family.
"She gets really excited about Santa now," she said.