Flashing lights, ringing bells, non-stop carols, packed shopping malls – Christmas can be overwhelming for even the most hardcore fans.
So, as a gift to families with children who have autism, Londonderry Mall in Edmonton is offering a toned-down visit with Santa, minus the sensory overload.
Dubbed "Silent Santa," families can book a private visit with the Man in Red, without having to endure loud, long lines. Lights are dimmed, carols turned down, and Santa is specially trained to deal with sensitive youngsters.
Lauren Rollett, Manager of Support Services with Autism Edmonton, has worked with Mr. and Mrs. Claus in the weeks before Silent Santa. The focus is to make the visits enjoyable for the whole family.
“Their biggest role is to reassure the family that this is a unique and special experience for the child – even if it doesn’t look like a typical Santa experience,” Rollett told The Huffington Post Alberta.
For example, Rollett says parents might be encouraged to consider a candid photo, if a traditional picture on Santa's knee makes the child uncomfortable.
Londonderry Mall is offering the program for the first time this year, and marketing director Nancy Jarnevic says the reception has been "overwhelmingly positive."
'Silent Santa' is less "HO-HO-HO!!!!!" and more "*ho-ho-ho*." (Photo: Gettystock)
"We thought it was a really good opportunity to offer an experience that some families might not otherwise get to have," she said.
The first two days have filled up, and Jarnevic says the mall is looking at possibly adding a third day.
"There’s obviously a demand for this in the community. We want to make it special for all families in the absolute best way."
Londonderry Mall is following in the footsteps of Kingsway Mall, which has offered a similar program in the past. Other major Canadian centres also have participating malls.
Jade Nesvold, a communications coordinator with Autism Edmonton, says Silent Santa is meaningful in two ways.
"It’s a sign that the community is embracing these families that are often isolated because these events aren’t designed for them."
"On one hand, this gives families the opportunity to take part in something they might normally miss out on," she said.
"It’s also a sign that the community is embracing these families that are often isolated because these events aren’t designed for them."
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