Santa Can Be Tough For Kids With Disabilities

Penny and I stood in front of Town Hall last Saturday night, listening to Marilee and her school choir singing Carol of the Bells. Then the mayor announced that Santa would be arriving shortly. Penny gripped my hand.

I leaned down and whispered, “You don’t have to be afraid of Santa anymore.”

Her hand relaxed. She inhaled, as if to remind herself that she is sixteen now and the fears of childhood have largely abated.

But Santa only shows up once a year, so she doesn’t have a lot of opportunity to practice remembering that this figure is meant to convey joy and excitement, even if for many seasons of her young life he simply scared her. A lot.

Penny’s experiences when she was younger of body-quaking fear with Santa aren’t unusual. The startling eruption of Ho Ho Ho! scared her. The big guy who she didn’t know who wanted her to sit on his lap and talk to her scared her. The unpredictability and noise and hubbub of it all was like putting barking dogs and a concert and a thunderstorm under one roof (and yes, those were all triggering terrors when she was little). 

Despite all the fear, Penny wanted to participate in the fun of it. She didn’t want to avoid Santa. But it was really hard to engage with him all the same. 

young girl with a disability sits on Santa and looks at him with a small smile

I was so glad to read of malls across the country that are offering an experience of a “sensory-friendly” Santa who will allow kids with similar fears and needs to face their fears and, hopefully, experience some fun and joy. Penny has no need or desire to visit Santa any longer. But if you have a child who could use a quieter and calmer experience, here’s a list of places across the country offering a way for kids with various sensitivities to participate in the happiness without all the Ho Ho Ho’s. 

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