A local charitable organization is making sure all children are given the opportunity to get their picture with Santa.

“Sensory Santa” gives children with autism a chance to visit Santa in a sensory friendly environment.

It was created by Quickstart, a charitable organization that helps children with autism. For five years it has been working closely with malls across Ottawa to host Sensory Santa.

Five malls- including Hazeldean Mall in Kanata held one hour sessions- before the malls open on various Sunday mornings in December. It is exclusively for children on the spectrum and their families.

“Many children with autism have sensory issues, sound, light can bother them,” says Suzanne Jacobson the founder of Quickstart.

There are also no lineups; instead there is a waiting area where children stay until they are called. No appointments are booked so parents have more flexibility.

Jacobson gives an example of how Santa understands the needs of children. “There was just a child now so frightened to see Santa. Santa got up came to him and started interacted. Now that child is sitting beside Santa and that family is getting their photo.”

Virginia and Chris Arcand took their 3-yr-old daughter Eleanor to see Santa for the first time. Eleanor was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Her parents say they were concerned about how she would handle the lights and sounds at the mall but were happy to have the chance to see Sensory Santa.

Virginia says “Definitely see her withdrawing into herself when things start get overwhelming I don’t know how long she would have been ok with everything being so much.”

She says the experience was extremely memorable. “The visit went well. We got some pictures and she gave him a high five! Glad they got the chance to capture the moment.

Sensory Santa will be back again at Hazeldean Mall in Kanata next Sunday.

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