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Inclusive Santa visits at Edmonton malls bring Christmas to kids with autism

Several malls in Edmonton, including Kingsway Mall, have added programming to allow children with special needs and sensory disorders to enjoy time with Santa. .
Several malls in Edmonton, including Kingsway Mall, have added programming to allow children with special needs and sensory disorders to enjoy time with Santa. . Courtesy / Kingsway Mall

Visiting Santa is a special part of Christmas for children and their families.

But for those who have sensory-processing disorders like autism, the experience can be a stressful one for child and parent alike.

The idea that Christmas is for everyone is what led to several Edmonton malls to add sensory-friendly Santa visits to their holiday programming.

Kingsway Mall, Londonderry Mall and Mill Woods Town Centre all offered the option for the 2019 season.

“This year, the response has been our greatest so far,” said Bo Tarasenko, the marketing manager for Kingsway Mall. “It’s been fully booked. We’ve actually had to open an entire new day.”

READ MORE: ‘It was really tough’: Edmontonian beats burpee world record, raises money for autism

The events take place after or before mall hours, with dimmed lighting, no music, and private visits with flexible time.

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This marks the 5th year that Kingsway has offered the option. The additional session the mall added due to increased demand will take place on Dec. 22 at 6 p.m., Tarasenko said.

“It’s really just an opportunity to have a very private and special and hopefully a low-stress time.”

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Londonderry Mall also offers the sessions but said it has been fully booked up for the 2019 season.

“It happens before mall hours, when it’s super quiet,” Vanessa Julio, marketing manager for Londonderry Mall said.  “(There’s) no chaos, as Santa photos can usually get.”

“(Families) are so grateful. A lot of them tell us that they’ve never been able to go to Santa before. A lot of parents have tears in their eyes,” Julio said.

“They’re just super happy that something like this is available.”

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Leslie Allen, executive director of Autism Edmonton, said that it’s an experience that many of the families she works with had previously gone without.

“You kind of make the decision that you know that your child is really not going to have a positive experience, so why even bother,” Allen said. “Children (with autism) always miss out on those types of things.”

READ MORE: ‘Sensory-friendly’ Santa helps children with autism ease into the holidays

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Allen said that the malls involved had consulted with Autism Edmonton about how best to run a sensory-friendly Santa event.

“Groups are really great about contacting us and having pre-meetings,” Allen said. “Really understanding what they can do and what the needs would be.”

Mill Woods Town Centre held its sensory-friendly event on Dec. 8.

Kingsway Mall still has slots available for its Dec. 22 session. Families can contact Guest Services to sign up.

Londonderry Mall offers Silent Santa program
Londonderry Mall offers Silent Santa program