Ability Connection, a local nonprofit organization serving disabled North Texas adults, hosted its first Sensory Santa event on December 11, 2021.
So what is a "Sensory Santa?"
This refers to a Santa Claus who is specifically trained to work with autistic children, as a visit to Santa can often be overwhelming for these children.
The primary goal with "Sensory Santa" is ultimately to create a fun, inviting and comfortable environment for individuals on the autism spectrum, as well as others with developmental disabilities.
The secondary purpose for setting up this specific event was to inform local families (with disabled children under 18) about Ability Connection's respite, school holiday and summer program.
This North Texas event drew more than 50 attendees for a safe and pleasant experience that was unique for each family.
Santa welcomed kids and their families in a large space, on a large couch with plenty of extra room.
After their special visit with Santa, attendees were invited to stay at Ability Connection to learn more about its programs, as well as participate in crafts and games.
"It was so wonderful to see these young folks and their family find ways to meet Santa on their terms and at their pace in a safe and welcoming environment," said Jim Hanophy, Ability Connection President and CEO.
The event was such a success, that the nonprofit is considering hosting similar experiences for holidays in the future.
As a testament to the event's impact, one local mother stated that she had been trying to get a photo with her child and Santa for so long. She was thrilled that the environment she visited on December 11 was finally a conducive one for this special memory with her son.
"We have been trying to do this for 7 years with no luck," the mother said. "He finally got to meet Santa, and was not scared one little bit."