LUZERNE COUNTY, Pa. — Many children wait all year to see Jolly Old Saint Nicholas. We’ve all seen the long lines of people at shopping malls waiting to take a picture with Santa and ask for that perfect Christmas gift, but for children with autism and other sensory disabilities, it’s not a lot of fun.
“They’re overstimulated by too much light, too much noise. You go to a mall and it’s crowded and you get a little anxious? Amplify that by 10,” organizer Jeannine Morrissey said.
Kids with sensory issues got their own space to spread holiday cheer in Pittston. Volunteers at First Baptist church welcomed “sensitive Santa,” only kids with sensory disabilities were invited to tell Santa why they should make the “nice list.”
“They’re drawing with Santa, and Santa is moving around. It’s Santa on their terms,” Morrissey said.
“We have this little sensory area set up back here with lots of orbies and slime and some comfortable chairs in case they need just you know, a little quiet place to chill out after seeing Santa,” Eileen Perchak of S.A.F.E. said.
A parishioner has a son with a sensory disability. She and other church members teamed up with S.A.F.E. and Brighter Journeys, two non-profits providing services to families with autistic children, to bring the event to life.
Unlike your typical shopping mall experience, Santa was prepped and experienced to deal with children’s individual sensory issues
“Sometimes they want to touch the beard, they want to smell reindeer on it. He might have to talk to some of them from a distance,” Perchak said.
Sensitive Santa has a son with autism who is now 27. Santa was proud to make the trip from the North Pole today for kids like his own
I teared up when I walked in here today, I really did, Santa said.