Sensitive Santa will be visiting with children who have autism or learning disabilities at 6 p.m. Thursday at Carl Albert State College (CASC) Sallisaw Campus.
Sensitive Santa is a project of the Pervasive Parenting Center, said the program’s co-founder Kodey Toney. Toney is a guidance specialist at CASC Sallisaw, and his wife, Jennifer, is a special education teacher for Panama Schools.
Toney said his own son was diagnosed with autism at age 3. He is now 10.
“I’m not an expert,” Toney said. “I’m just a dad, trying to help my son.”
Sensitive Santa is one of the many projects and programs the Toneys have organized or brought to the area to assist those who have children with developmental disabilities.
Toney explained, “This is an opportunity for anyone with sensory issues to get to meet Santa without standing in the long lines. For some families with children on the autism spectrum, or with other sensory problems, the holiday season can be overwhelming. The long lines at stores to get a couple seconds with Santa, which may or may not work out, can be frustrating for a child with autism and the families. For a small group of families there is an alternative to those lines and hotbeds for meltdowns.”
Sensitive Santa provides a more peaceful visit with Santa.
Toney said, “Children with disabilities who attend can enjoy a quiet evening with Santa and don’t have to wait in lines.”
This is the fifth year for Sensitive Santa in Poteau and the first year in Sallisaw.
“We have many families now in the Sallisaw area, so we felt it was time to bring this to them,” Toney said.
Toney said Sensitive Santa is soft spoken, unlike the boisterous, jolly soul at the mall. The stereotypical reproduction of the real man from the north is usually too much for a neurotypical child to handle, much less someone who is upset by loud sounds. He won’t touch the children unless they come up to him. They don’t have to sit in his lap unless they want to.
“This has been such a blessing for us to sponsor,” said Toney. “Last year we had a little girl who is pretty much non-verbal, but when she saw Santa her eyes lit up and she became attached to him very quickly. It’s great to see these children interact with Santa when most times they would be too overstimulated to participate.”
Toney said the little girl became so attached to Santa, that Santa had to take her to the family’s vehicle so she would go home.
“It was so cool,” Toney said. “That is why we do this. I love it.”
At Sensitive Santa, the children are treated to milk and cookies while they wait, and someone is on hand to read a book as well. This gives them something to do instead of standing around in a long line.
Families are asked to only bring the child with a disability, no siblings.
“The children can do whatever they want,” Toney said. “The children can ask for presents, or they can just talk, or they don’t have to speak.”
For more information contact Toney at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Pervasive Parenting Center.
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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