“How do you grow up to become Santa Claus?” I innocently asked the white-bearded man. Laying a finger aside of his nose, he looked at me gently and told his story.
I will never take Santa Claus for granted again! Most of us grew up with Santa Claus as a beloved Christmas icon. Maybe you have one or two special Santa memories that you cherish. Did you take your kids to visit Santa and then tuck the photo away as a life-long Christmas treasure? I sure did! I have always taken it all for granted. I never realized how hard it is for parents of a special needs child to give their kids a Santa moment. At the July 2009, Autism Society of America conference, I met Santa John of Santa America whose mission is to bring “Unconditional Love, Hope and Joy wrapped in a warm Santa hug to special needs children and their families 365 days a year!” (see Compassionate Santa Services.) Santa America and the Autism Society of America announced a “gentle alliance” that will help children affected by autism and their families have a rewarding experience with Santa for the holiday season. “Autism is a complex neurodevelopment disability that typically appears in the first two years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.” Santa John told me, “Children dealing with Autism cannot tolerate the noise, crowds, and the wait involved in a Santa visit. Trying to take kids with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) to see Santa at the mall is total sensory overload. As the child and his parent struggle to deal with the situation some other well-meaning adult scowl and say sarcastically, ‘Can’t you control your child?’ The true answer is no! They really can not control their ASD child. Even if parents try their best to give their child what every other normal family enjoys as an American Christmas Tradition, the parents and the child are often humiliated and rejected.” Santa-America tenderly serves three groups of very special children:
- Children in hospice or children with parents or grandparents in hospice; and
- Children with chronic pediatric conditions or in palliative care; and
- Children suffering post traumatic stress due to abuse, violence, or other trauma.
- Identify a child on the autism spectrum
- Learn to ‘tone it down’ to avoid causing a negative response
- Learn to use story-telling cards and relaxing techniques