The tradition of visiting Santa’s Grotto has become the thing to do with young children and different attractions offer the opportunity in a variety of settings. From school fairs to Santa Steam Railways, safari parks, Thomas Land and garden centres -you can even go on the Polar Express (in more than one location – that’s magic!) – Santa – or at least – one of his ‘helpers’ is available to hear your child’s Christmas list in any number of places in the run up to the big day.
However, some children are utterly freaked out by the idea of sitting in a dark room with a scary, strange big man in a bright outfit, and who could blame them? Children on the autism spectrum in particular can find this very challenging, as they often lack the understanding of the concept of Christmas and the traditions that go along with it. Interacting with people in general can be very difficult, let alone this strange bearded guy.
Tink has always struggled with Santa visits, right from when she was a baby. We hoped she’d grow out of it. Last year she saw him three times: one was an absolute screaming disaster, the other two weren’t too bad but she wasn’t overly happy. So, the time came this year to try again, just to see if we could ease her out of her comfort zone.
We ended up seeing Santa twice in one week; we booked a grotto visit at a local garden centre, and then we were fortunate enough to be offered a space on the Square Peg Foundation ‘Sensory Santa’ session that I had missed out on booking originally. And guess what? She was brilliant! No screaming, not even any crying and only a little amount of wary looks in Santa’s direction. Success!
She really seemed to enjoy the garden centre experience. The idea was that we would travel on a ‘train’ (shed with benches – shhh!) to the North Pole, where we would meet Mrs Claus and make reindeer food and tree decorations before going through to visit the Big Man himself. Tink enjoyed her ‘train ride’ and got involved in hiding one of the elf helpers with blankets by hiding herself with one, making everyone chuckle! She sat nicely in Mrs Claus’ kitchen and was brilliant at counting out the right number of spoons of ingredients for the reindeer food and she even coloured in her tree decoration, which she hung on the tree perfectly.
Then, it was time to go and see Santa… We were in a group with several other people, and all went into the ‘grotto’ together, where there were beanbags for the children to sit on. Tink promptly lay herself down. Once everyone was seated, Santa called out the names of the first children, and it was Tink and H, which was fortunate as it meant we didn’t have to wait long. With a little encouragement from Daddy, Tink went up to Santa to collect her present, and even hung around for some photos, although when he asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she ignored him! She even did a little dance for everyone, which was funny! Considering she’d had a busy day at Nursery and it was her usual tea-time, she was fantastic!
So, when I was offered the chance to go to the Sensory Santa session yesterday, I jumped at the chance. These sessions have been arranged specifically for children with varying special needs and have been very popular. Our slot was the first of the morning and we had almost an hour to spend doing various activities, including decorating biscuits, making Christmas cards, colouring, making bird feeders and sensory ‘snow’ play. There were no more than three families at a time, so it was relaxed and not overwhelming for the children and it was lovely to see them enjoying the lights and activities as well as the snacks and drinks on offer.
Finally, it was time to go out to the Sensory Bus to see Santa in his grotto. Tink was a little hesitant at first, even though she’s been on the bus a couple of times before. She loves the bus; it has some brilliant sensory equipment inside, such as a bubble tube and an illuminated drawing board, which Santa gave her a special pen with which to draw on it. She wasn’t too fussed about Santa himself, but she wasn’t bothered by him either. H, on the other hand found him amazing! Not only did he have a very convincing accent, but he knew everything there is to know about Pokemon, and told H where to catch some very good ones nearby on Pokemon Go – and he was right! This convinced H that this was no ‘helper’, but must be the real Santa! Of course it is….!
So, far, this year’s Santa visits have been a great success and very enjoyable. We have one more to go, so fingers crossed we’ll make it three out of three. Tink has been amazing – I know how lucky we have been.