Sensory Santa visits children with sensory issues

CINCINNATI - What is a time of excitement for most children, sitting on Santa's lap can be be a nightmare experience for kids with sensory issues.

Bright lights, long lines and lots of noise are all negative triggers for children with sensory issues.

But Sensory Santa, also known as "quiet" or "silent" Santa, welcomes children with sensory issues, like autism, around the country and here in the Tri-State.

"(Children with sensory issues) can't handle the sounds and extra stimulation coming into their nervous system," explained Diane Crecelius, a physical therapist at ABC Pediatric Therapy. "If we can decrease some of that stimulation they are able to process the sensory information that does come in, in a more normal pace and that way they can react more positively."

Last weekend around 100 families visited a sensory friendly Santa at Children's Hospital. ABC Pediatric Therapy in West Chester is hosting its own 'Sensory Santa' night on Dec. 12.

"It provides them the opportunity to see Santa, either by themselves, with their siblings, with their family and they don't have to deal with waiting in line, the different noises of music and the lights and all of the people that they might experience at a mall," said Crecelius.

ABC Pediatric Therapy offers occupational and speech therapy for children with any kind of developmental issue.

Behind Santa's beard is a physical therapist who works with children with sensory difficulties daily.

The visit is private and there's no line outside. The children wait in a playroom with activities set-up.

For some families this is a chance to get a family picture with their entire family. You can make a reservation for Sensory Santa by emailing: Emcfarland@abcpediatrictherapy.com.

If you can't make it to Sensory Santa, here are some tips taking a child with sensory issues to a Santa at the mall or public place:

  • Call the mall, identify lower volume times so kids don't have to spend time waiting in line
  • Bring something for the child to do
  • Have parent wait in line with child in calmer, quieter environment
  • Tell the child a social story before the trip - explain what's going to happen, giving them as much information as possible about the lights, the camera, what Santa might say, allow them to visualize the situation and explain everything you can about the situation
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