'Sensitive Santa' ready to greet children
Times Record - 12/7/2018
Dec. 07--Cheerful, noisy visits from Santa inside busy stores might be ideal for many children, but other young ones are wishing only for a calm, quiet visit with the bearded Christmas icon.
Children who have autism or experience other sensory issues or disabilities once again are in luck via Pervasive Parenting Center's eight annual Sensitive Santa, a program that allows those children to avoid standing in long lines and enduring bright lights and loud sounds, said Kodey Toney, director and founder for the Poteau-based Pervasive Parenting Center. The program will have Sensitive Santa at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Ki Bois Community Action Building, 200 S.E. A St. in Stigler; and at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Carl Albert State College Student Union, 1507 S. McKenna St. in Poteau.
"This is a great event that is my favorite event that we do all year," Toney said of the program, which calls for Santa to be soft-spoken with the children. "For some families with children on the autism spectrum, or with other sensory problems, the holiday season can be overwhelming.
"The long lines at stores to get a couple seconds with Santa, which may or may not work out, can be frustrating for a child with autism, and for the families," he added. "Any parent of a child on the spectrum knows waiting in those long lines is just an invitation to a meltdown. The Sensitive Santa program is an alternative to those lines and hotbeds for meltdowns."
In addition to being calm and soft-spoken, Santa will wait and allow the children to approach him; children who only wish to visit with or watch Santa from a distance can still participate.
"The stereotypical reproduction of the real man from the North Pole is usually too much for a neurotypical child to handle, much less someone who is easily upset by loud sounds," said Toney, whose organization also schedules networking conferences with agencies like the Oklahoma Family Network and the Disability Law Center, and has trained more than 800 educators on subjects such as autism in the classroom. "Santa won't touch the children unless they come up to him, and they don't have to sit in his lap unless they want to do that."
The event is held by appointment only to help with crowding, and families are asked to bring only the child with the sensory issue or disability to the event. Families are asked to leave siblings at home because too many children can mean "too many distractions," Toney said.
Those planning to attend are asked to call (918) 647-1255, email firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message via the Pervasive Parenting Center (CPRC) Facebook page.
Children who attend Sensitive Santa will enjoy cookies and milk while they wait, Toney said. Various games and activities, plus an individual reading a book, will help ensure a "great, fun" evening for the children and their families, he said.
"This has been such a blessing for us to sponsor," Toney said. "Every year, we see children interact with Santa who typically wouldn't get a chance to, and Santa is so patient."
As many as 75 area children are expected to participate in this year's Sensitive Santa, he said.
"One of my favorite things to see is a child who has been trying to see Santa elsewhere for a couple of years, and the mom tells us that the child hasn't been able to sit on Santa's lap," Toney said. "We see that kid, and because of the environment with Sensitive Santa, that child gets to sit on Santa's lap but isn't rushed through.
"You then see the joy in that child and also in the parent," he added. "Parents walk out of here with tears, telling us, "Thank you. I don't think my child would have been able to do this any other way.' For me, that is what this is all about."
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