News Article Details

"Calming" and "sensitive" Santas to offer sensory-friendly experience for special needs children

Virginian-Pilot - 11/28/2018

Nov. 28--Meeting Santa can be a stressful experience.

There's usually a long line, camera flashes and the hustle and bustle of shoppers.

But at least three local malls want to make the experience easier for children with autism and other special needs.

MacArthur is offering an opportunity to meet "Calming Santa" on Dec. 9 and Lynnhaven Mall will have "Sensitive Santa" on Dec. 2 in a more soothing and sensory-friendly environment. Greenbrier Mall in Chesapeake will have a sensory-friendly Santa also on Dec. 2.

"We want to make sure every child is able to have a special time with Santa and share their wish list in a way that works with them," said Karen Husselbee, a spokeswoman for the MacArthur Center.

It the third or fourth time the mall has done it, she said.

On Sunday, Dec. 9, MacArthur Center open its doors on Dec. 9 from 9 to 11 am. for "Calming Santa."

That means dimming the lights, turning the background music off, not running machines that make extra noise, and offering 15-minute time slots for meeting Santa, Husselbee said. It's before the mall opens to the public.

Lynnhaven will have "Sensitive Santa" from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 2. The mall partners with the Autism Society of Tidewater. It's also before the mall opens and the lights are dimmed, the music is quieted, and there are special activities while children wait in line. It's a low-key setting.

Greenbrier will have a sensory-friendly Santa from 9 to 11 a.m. at the the mall on Dec. 2. The mall partners with Autism Speaks for the event, which will be before the mall is open to the public. Music, bright lights and traffic will be muted. Families will be given numbers as the arrive and will enjoy coloring until it's their turn to meet Santa.

To make a reservation in Norfolk, go to the MacArthur Center's website here or call 757-314-4402. To make a reservation at Lynnhaven, contact Nicole Miller at or call 757-461-4474. Greenbrier asks families to RSVP online here.


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