University Place and the UVU Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism partnered to create a low-sensory Christmas experience that kids with a wide range of needs could enjoy.
The Quiet Santa event brought families to a secluded space where children with autism could meet with Santa in an environment designed to make them feel comfortable.
Event planner Jared Mower personally escorted families in and out of the Quiet Santa room, where they met with Santa Claus for their personal, 20-minute slots.
“We pick a space and decorate it specifically for children with autism so that they don’t have the crowds (or) the loud noises,” Mower said. He explained that Santa was given special training for interacting with children with special needs.
Research shows how important these low-sensory environments can be for kids with autism.
“Sensory issues often accompany autism,” according to Autism Speaks. “Autism’s sensory issues can involve both hyper-sensitivities (over-responsiveness) and hypo-sensitivities (under-responsiveness) to a wide range of stimuli.”
Mower said the Quiet Santa room had toys and activities for children with a range of needs, such as quiet, hands-on toys for children with hyper-sensitivities and louder, noise-making toys for children with hypo-sensitivities.
One mother, Katy Self, brought her children to Quiet Santa for the first time this year. She described the experience as “magical.”
“(Santa) took the time to be one-on-one with my son who has special needs and it was amazing to see him be interactive,” Self said.
Another parent, Greg Foy, said his sons had a great time at Quiet Santa.
“Santa had many different toy options to keep them entertained,” Foy said. “He was very good interacting with our kids.”
Both parents mentioned how endearing it was to see Santa get on the ground to play with the children and make them feel at ease.
Quiet Santa will continue to hold hours through Friday, Dec. 13. This is the third year University Mall has hosted Quiet Santa, and the slots fill up every year. Mower said they plan on continuing this high-demand event as long as they can.