As Christmas nears, many kids will be planning their visits to the big guy in red. For kids with autism or other behavioral or intellectual disorders, the annual visit and photo with Santa can be a challenging endeavor. Fortunately, more and more programs are popping up to make it a little easier to include all children in this beloved tradition and the Indianapolis area has several opportunities.
Where to See Sensory-Friendly Santa in Indy
Sensory-Friendly Santa at Conner Prairie
Saturday, December 9, 1-3 pm
Visit Santa in a quiet, sensory-friendly space at Conner Prairie. Santa welcomes anyone to visit with him and tell him their Holiday wishes—but at their own pace and comfort level. Fidget toys will be on the table as well as cookies to decorate and enjoy! This is a ticketed event.
Indiana State Museum
December 10, 2023, 3-5 pm
Experience the magic of the holidays in a sensory-friendly environment for families with children and adults with autism, or individuals with other sensory or developmental needs. During this time, Celebration Crossing will be made more welcoming by reducing overhead music, dimming lights, and providing sensory-based activities throughout the experience. The Autism Society of Indiana will be present to assist families as needed.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
December 12, 2023, 4-7 pm
The Children’s Museum periodically offers Museum My Way events, designed specifically to provide a more calm, comfortable environment for visitors with disabilities or sensory sensitivities. Santa visits will be available during the December event, where attendees will also have the opportunity to play in WinterFaire, Sacred Places, Take Me There: Greece, and American POP. Purchase your tickets in advance.
The Shops at Perry Crossing
December 9, 11 am-1 pm & December 17, Noon-2 pm
Located in the Holiday Studio across from Old Navy
Sensory Santa is a designated time for both children and adults who may require special needs to have a calm, quiet, and less stimulating environment to meet with Santa.
Simon Malls Sensory Friendly Caring Santa
Sunday, December 3, 2022, hours vary
Castleton Square, The Fashion Mall, and Greenwood Park Mall.
In select Simon malls across the country, Santa will visit outside regular mall hours for special needs kids. Participating malls create a sensory-friendly environment by dimming the lights and turning off music, elevators and TVs. And, in an effort to create a more positive environment, participating Santas have received additional training to work with special needs kids. These events are free, but photo packages will be available for purchase. Click here for a complete list and to find one near you. Guests must register in advance.
Tips for Creating a Positive Santa Experience:
If you can’t make it to one of the Caring Santas, there are still lots of opportunities for your child to visit with the big guy. Below are a few tips that might make it a little easier.
- Preparation is key in all things special needs. Before your Santa visit, create a picture book, visual schedule, or social story to help your child get familiar with what to expect.
- Communicate your needs. Calling the venue in advance will help with your preparations and determine if it will be a good fit for your family. Plus, it lets them know what special needs families need. Questions to ask: Are there quiet hours offered? If not, when is the least busy time to visit? Does the Santa have experience with special needs children? Will it be OK if my child stands next to Santa rather than sitting on his lap? Is the space wheelchair friendly? Also, when you arrive, don’t hesitate to let the staff know your needs.
- Bring some comfort items and/or props along. My son is very high energy and when he was a toddler, we knew there was no way he’d sit for a photo with Santa. So I had the idea to bring a few cookies along. Everybody knows Santa loves cookies, and it definitely captivated my son’s attention. It also made for a great photo. Older kids might want to bring along a handwritten list or even a small gift for Santa. Engage them by letting them choose what to bring. Giving them purpose and something to focus on can significantly ease stress.
- Waiting in line can be the hardest part, especially for those who have mobility issues. Bring along another adult who can hang out with your child while you navigate the line.
- If it still sounds like visiting Santa might be too overwhelming, there are lots of alternatives to seeing him in person. We have some great resources for arranging a special personalized call or video from Santa.
Walk through a magical Indianapolis holiday light display.