Sensitive Santa

At this time of year, things can get hectic, a little louder and brighter. Santa's ho ho ho's and bell ringing bring delight to the nearby children in the shopping centres. Everything is blingy, noisier and the chaotic rush of present buying, grocery shopping and the endless activities from morning to night, permeates the air with an excited energy. Not to forget the constant Christmas carols (piped music or real vocals) filling our houses, businesses, schools, ears and voices. If you are lucky enough to have photographs of your children growing up sitting on Santa's knee then you'll have some prized memories of the festive season.

Sometimes as adults all this festivity, which seems to start earlier each year, can send you bonkers! But what about the children? And to add more to the mix, what if your a child on the autism spectrum? This time of year can not only aggravate the children who fit into the spectrum, but also cause great anguish for the parents who love their autistic child.

These families miss out on the joyous delight of photos on Santa's knee. They also miss out on the cute Christmas conversations that occur between Santa and the child. Too much Christmas magic can send some children into a tailspin.

Welcome Sensitive Santa. At Watsonia Library we had Sensitive Santa for the first weekend in December. One of our staff members, who understands first hand about an autistic child, was the tough (love) gatekeeper to Santa's space. The lights were switched off in both the hallway and the Quiet Reading Room. The curtains were lowered and Santa was softer, gentler and patient with each individual child. No bells, no music, only bubbles. Prior to the big day, Santa researched each potential client. This enabled him to engage with his visitors on a personal level and discuss with the children about their favourite topics. A challenging task in most circumstances, but doubly-so if a child is autistic. Our Sensitive Santa opened a doorway by spending time with the children and allowing for dialogue, to flow natural between child and Santa. These children were engaged, listening and responding to Santa's questions. At last, parents had their cute conversation to remember.

There were also professional photographers to take snaps of Santa and the children. No camera flashes were allowed, so the photographers came two weeks prior to the event to assess lighting needs.

When visiting this hushed, low key environment, the space felt safe and calming. The gatekeepers only allowing those with special needs to enter this world so that children and parents could enjoy Santa and possibly their first photo opportunity.

Have we got it wrong? Is Christmas brash, rushed and loud? Maybe we should take a leaf out of Sensitive Santa's book and step back into what Christmas is all about. A world were we slow down, listen to others and share a generosity of spirit with those that see the world a little differently.

Sensitive Santa was first trialed at Yarra Plenty Regional Library five years ago at Watsonia Library, Lalor Library and Diamond Valley Library. Since this initial introduction it has flourished throughout the library service and now is a staple December program for Mill Park Library also. Sensitive Santa has also inspired other programming over the last few years like Inclusive Santa and Signing Santa. YPRL wants to make ensure all children have the opportunity to create and experience special Christmas memories. 

So, we would like to thank Sensitive Santa and all those who supported him with your visits, emails and photos. May all your future Christmases be calm and gentle.


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