Tulsa mall offers ‘Sensitive Santa’ for kids with special needs

A Tulsa mall is offering some quiet time with Santa so special needs children can enjoy a visit without being overwhelmed or overstimulated.

From Tulsa World:

“For two hours before the shopping mall opened to the rest of the public, no Christmas music played and the lights were turned way down low for Tulsa Promenade’s first-ever “Sensitive Santa” event.”

“He wouldn’t have been able to do this otherwise because normally, you have so much activity and noise. I mean, look, it’s already working. He’s calm,” said Amanda Smallwood, nodding toward her 7-year-old nephew, Isaiah Givens. …”

“Further back in the line, Braden Noojin, 6, was glued to the screen of his Nintendo Game Boy.

“It helps him tune everything else out,” said his guardian grandmother, Kathy Noojin. “We haven’t done this before because it just wouldn’t have been worth the stress for him or me. People would be like, ‘Get your child under control.’ Here, everyone understands….”

“Susan Frederick, marketing director for Tulsa Promenade, said the idea for the “Sensitive Santa” event was born out of a similar one held last year at a Dayton, Ohio, mall owned by the same company, Glimcher Realty Trust.”

” ‘This is our regular Santa. He has a number of years of experience working with kids with special needs,’ Frederick explained. ‘All we do differently is ask about their comfort level. Are they comfortable with a (camera) flash? Can they have candy? Are they able to speak to Santa?’ ”

This story just warmed my heart and literally made me cry. I am so glad that somebody is thinking out there. These children deserve a happy experience talking to Santa as much as any other child, and I am so glad they are able to do this.

I have not heard of any malls around Atlanta offering this type of less stimulating Santa service. I searched for a while on the Web last night and didn’t find any publicizing it. (If you are a PR person for a local mall who is offering this type of service please write on the blog and let us know! I am sure parents would be interested!)

I did find in my search that the Autism Society Greater Georgia did offer on Dec. 4 a special day with a Sensitive Santa.

This was the write-up for the event on their Web site:

“ASA-GGC seeks to create a special opportunity for children on the spectrum and their siblings to visit with Santa without the stress of long lines and crowded malls. There are a limited number of appointment slots available, so please call ahead to reserve your time.”

So we’ve missed it this year but remember that for next year if you have a child with special needs. Or maybe a mall around Atlanta will also offer the service!

What do you think of the Sensitive Santa idea? Have you taken your special needs child to a Sensitive Santa before? Would you if knew one was offered? Is there a regular Santa that you could recommend for children with special needs?

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December 7th, 2010
2:36 am

Wow! That is a great story! Such a blessing for any family with a child who can’t participate otherwise.


December 7th, 2010
7:12 am

Very heart-warming story. It would be nice if all Santa experiences could be of the calm nature rather than all the hoopla and hype, and of course the helicopter parents who want just the perfect photo of their kids with the big man. I think this kind of story reminds us about what Santa should be all about…just him and a child communicating whether it’s about gifts or anything else the child wants to talk about.


December 7th, 2010
7:39 am

Wonderful…thanks for sharing TWG!


December 7th, 2010
8:17 am

I’m touched.


December 7th, 2010
8:28 am

Wow..Holding back the tears here..This is a wonderful thing to do..


December 7th, 2010
9:48 am

@ Betty …I just read your recent post ( this morning) to Krista on yesterday’s blog and re-posted.

I do not want to hijack this blog, although today, it is kinda slow now. Sad, to me as all children
( who want to) deserve to enjoy a pleasant experience with Santa too.

Please take a peak at what I shared and let me know what you think. Stay warm everyone!


December 7th, 2010
10:04 am

Good idea! Visiting Santa can be an overwhelming experience even for a child that doesn’t have any special needs. Remember that scene in “A Christmas Story”?!

mom of 3

December 7th, 2010
10:06 am

That is so wonderful and caring. Maybe this will give some of our malls an idea for next year. Great post


December 7th, 2010
10:28 am

Simply WONDERFUL! I have heard of movie theatres having specific showing’s for special needs children but this is the first I’ve heard of Sensitive Santa.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

December 7th, 2010
10:43 am

Momsrule — I found on a site three malls in atlanta that do the special movies — I know Phipps and Discover Mills were on the list — can’t remember the third — folks should call those theaters and ask about it.


December 7th, 2010
10:46 am

The other theatre that offers screenings for special needs kids is Studio Movie Grill on Holcomb Bridge.


December 7th, 2010
10:50 am

MJG my kids woke to candy in their shoes!


December 7th, 2010
11:01 am

What a lovely idea! It certainly takes away a huge source of stress for both the kids and their parents — A Very Good Thing!


December 7th, 2010
11:01 am

How wonderful! I wish they would do that in Atlanta. My son isn’t “special needs” but he is HIGHLY sensitive to noise and hoopla. It takes a lot of preparation to go to certain places that he really enjoys, but we use noise-protection earphones, earplugs and we really have to explain exactly how things are going to be before arriving. He hasn’t seen Santa since he was 10m old because of this. I have one horrific photo when he was 2 because I wanted one with his new baby brother, but I had to get in it and it looks like something that belongs on one of those “funny family pix” websites! It’s not Santa himself, but the hoopla, crowds and noise surrounding it.

We took them to the zoo a few weeks ago to see Santa and they said they would have carolers. We thought this would be great because he’s VERY familiar with the zoo, and he loves traditional Christmas music at normal levels. However, the moron who organized the zoo festivities had some C- rate DJ BLASTING -and I mean BLASTING rap Christmas music and other “holiday” tunes no one had ever heard of. People were complaining and leaving in droves. Several folks with infants had to take them out because they were screaming from the noise. My son went nuts, ran out and couldn’t see Santa -even though this year he was actually excited about it. Any special needs child would probably have done the same!

Great idea from Tucson -let’s hope more cities get into it! I’m sure there are countless people who have children with true special needs who would love this opportunity -and those of us who have children with sensitivity-disorders would appreciate it too!


December 7th, 2010
11:03 am


Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

December 7th, 2010
11:35 am

JATL — I am wondering for you son about smaller Santa gatherings — for example — I know sometimes Ys have a Santa come out — or some business do it — I know my brother’s family goes almost every year to a Walton County Bank to see Santa — Also wonder if you could call ahead to one the malls and try to set up a special time before or after — You know when I was little (and I think the NY Macy’s may still be this way) — the Rich’s Santa was hidden away in a private room — you waited in low corridors and then you finally got to see Santa in a private room — much less noise and hoopla — I think they just had two or more Santas running but it was more quiet


December 7th, 2010
12:05 pm

A Santa can be “rented” for not too much cash. My photographer friend had one at her home/studio last weekend as a thank you to her customers. He was unbelievably nice, very “pretty” as my wife likes to call Santas, and there wasn’t that RUSH-RUSH feeling there is at the malls. We also went ahead of time(as did most of the families) and left a present for Santa to give our children while they were there.

A small group of friends could pitch in and get a Santa to their house for not a lot of cash I imagine. This might be something to consider for special needs children.

As a humorous aside, on the way home my 6-year-old commented about her gift, “I’m surprised Santa didn’t now I didn’t want any books for Christmas”.


December 7th, 2010
1:41 pm

In early December about 25 years ago, Bill Elliott held an open house at his garage near Dawsonville. The line was long–a couple of hours–and we finally snaked our way up to see Mr. Elliott, who was dressed in his customary red jumpsuit. My son, about 5, started telling him what he wanted for Christmas (I guess he was confused that this was Santa?) and Mr. Elliott said, “Well, son, I hope you get it.” Had to laugh.


December 7th, 2010
1:43 pm

My 3 year old granddaughter’s understanding of “The Night Before Christmas” isn’t quite complete. She told her mom that Santa’s belly “shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly and peanut butter and bananas.” Which I think is an improvment from the CC Moore version. (Of course, silly old Grandma!)


December 7th, 2010
1:49 pm

I love this story! Thanks for sharing!

Laurie McCune (Autism Society, Georgia)

December 7th, 2010
4:10 pm

Thanks so much for finding out about our “Special Time w/ Santa” – it was truly a special time for all children and all parents that visited that day. Each year we are certain that it can’t get any better and then it does, for everyone. This year, one particular story that has stayed with me is that of a young boy who has been asking to see Santa EVERY day since June. On Friday night, before his special time w/ Santa, he had 6 seizures and woke up Saturday morning with nothing to give….until he saw who he had been waiting for. Very slowly, he smiled and with every ounce of energy he could had, he put his arms around Santa and laid his head on Santa’s chest.
If you hear of a mall that would like to be involved, please feel free to share our contact info. We’d love to help them get going and share tips.
Our enews signup and calendar is found on our website, http://www.asaga.com. The sensory friendly film info (schedules and locations) is there as well as a listing of our future events.
Thanks again! Laurie McCune, Autism Society, Georgia Chapter Relations Director


December 13th, 2010
10:09 pm

This is awesome! I wish they had something like this in california! AMC movie theaters offer a once a month showing of the current kid movie out where they turn the lights up and the sound down and the kids can be as loud as they want! I’m so glad people are starting to give special needs kids the experience other kids get to have. As a mother of a 5 year old autistic son, I appreciate it very much!