Sensory-Friendly Santa, we are so thankful for you.

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Wilson was so excited when we told him we were going to see Santa.  He had done well with this same visit last year.  Our local mall allows appointments for children who struggle with sensory processing to be made before the mall opens for the day. This means no crowds or long lines and it’s calm and quiet. 

There is a super easy-going Santa and patient elves and you don’t have to explain any behaviors to anyone. Honestly, without this sensory-friendly option, we wouldn’t have attempted a Santa visit.

Wilson allowed us to put him in his nice (uncomfortable) clothing, even including his adorable reindeer sweater even though it had long sleeves and he hates wearing long sleeves.

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When we got out of the car in the nearly empty parking garage, we heard another family returning to their car with a toddler in tow who was in the midst of a knock-down-drag-out-screaming-meltdown. David and I looked at each other, and we smiled. I’m not sure why, I know that reaction seems horrible.  I think it’s because that has been us. That is usually always us. It’s funny how something so simple can immediately make you feel less alone.

We were a little early, so the kids played on the outdoor play structure while we waited.  The dreaded wait. Our boy struggles to wait for anything. Waiting means time and opportunity for that pesky, fun-sucking anxiety to sneak into his sweet little body and basically ruin whatever the wait was for in the first place. 

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It didn’t take long and he was done.  He started screaming, which was surprisingly loud in the nearly empty mall. He ran over and kicked a sign, then a wall. Kicking?  I remember making a mental note of this new behavior.

Saved by Santa, it was our turn to enter his little living room.  Once we were inside, the jolly man in the red suit might as well have been invisible. Wilson was compulsively searching for a train, I’m guessing one that he saw last year, which was not where he had left it.  It was all he could focus on. In his mind, and in his world, things were just not right.  His memory and intense preoccupations are truly incredible. And frustrating. 

This is autism.

The rest of his day was blown. It was spent counting, sorting and repeating phrases he has learned from shows in attempt to create order and reorganize himself.

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I had seen that going much better in my head. I found myself wondering if these kinds of outings are even worth it. 

Without this sensory-friendly option, we wouldn’t have come. We would have missed playing on the playground and this adorable photo that, even with the stressful memory attached, still shows a boy who has made SO much progress.

We’ll be back next year.

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