By Silvia Foster-Frau

Some kids delight in it: the loud “ho ho ho”s, sitting on Santa’s lap, being around other excited children.

But for others, the Santa experience is more stressful than fun.

To counter that, Abilis will offer a “Sensory Santa” for children who are sensitive to sensory overload and need a more tranquil and personalized interaction with Santa to enjoy his company.


“All sensory input will be individualized to each child to minimize the distress and maximize the experience they get from this,” said Karen Feder, director of early intervention programming for Abilis, a nonprofit for people with developmental disabilities.

Families must sign up their child to meet with this Santa, who will give 15-minute individualized sessions per family between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 6, at Abilis, 50 Glenville St.

While mostly directed for children with autism, Feder said even shy or otherwise easily-overwhelmed children could benefit from this Santa experience.

When families sign up, they will be asked to describe the different wants and needs of their child so the interaction with Santa will cater to their disabilities and abilities.

Those that dislike human touch can stand next to Santa, those who have minimal language skills might communicate with Santa using pictures and those who need less visual stimulation can greet him in a room with soft, low lighting.

“The more positive of an experience they have, the better for their development and growth,” said Feder. “We want them to develop a positive experience so maybe they can generalize it to another situation.”

She said it’s possible that after having a pleasant interaction with Santa this way, perhaps the child will learn to enjoy greeting Santa in a mall, or in a less managed setting, later on.

“The families want their children to have this experience. Parents need to have that hope and see their children can enjoy what typical kids do — meeting Santa,” said Feder.

Also at Abilis headquarters is a small gift store for families who want to do holiday shopping in a less stressful setting. Many of the products are made by Abilis clientele.

Feder said offering Sensory Santa is “accommodating people and recognizing this community and what we can do to enhance (it). This is just another way of giving children the best experiences we can, so that the holidays can be enjoyed by these children and families.”

Families interested in signing up can call Stacey Brazier of Abilis at 203-531-1880.