KELOWNA - A visit to see Santa in the mall, along with the obligatory photo, is a rite of passage in Canada for most kids.
But if your child isn’t fascinated by the flashing lights, ringing bells and ornate costumes or together it creates a kind of sensory overload that leads to anxiety and even a tantrum, Christmas and the holidays may have a whole different meaning. Unless it's done right.
Tracey Vrecko is a Kelowna mom to a six-year old son with autism and says previous visits to Santa in a shopping mall have not gone well. That prompted Vrecko and her husband Quincy to dust off an idea they had seen at a mall in Calgary.
“What we have done is create a sensory friendly moment for children on the autism spectrum who may have hypersensitivity to lights and sounds,” Vrecko says.
Sensitive Santa is actually the regular Orchard Park Mall Santa who has been given sensitivity training on how to interact with autistic children, Vrecko says.
“He’s very excited about doing this."
Orchard Park mall has agreed to host Sensitivity Santa outside regular mall hours when the place is empty. They have also agreed to dim the lights and keep music to a minumum as each child enjoys a five-minute session with Santa.
“They usually put about sixty people through an hour so five minutes is a long time. Any parent with a child in the spectrum will tell you the more time you have to prepare your child for what is about to happen, the smoother things go.”
Autism is a neuro-developmental condition that manifests itself in many different ways and leaves people with the condition at many different levels from high-functioning to severely autistic.
Vrecko is a board member with Autism Okanagan, a support and advocacy group, and says the event has its blessing. She and her husband, both local realtors, are sponsoring photographs for all the children.
“I have photos from previous photos to Santa. You can tell which visits did not go well,” she says.
Demand has been brisk since Vrecko first posted news of Sensitive Santa, scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 13 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Just three of 24 Santa visits were left as of Wednesday evening but Vrecko says Orchard Park mall management has said they will open up more visits if the demand is there.
A visit to the Sensitive Santa is free however Vrecko said Autism Okanagan will gladly accept donations. You can contact her at 250-575-6448 for more information.
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