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‘Sensory Santa’ allows autistic and sensory children special opportunity to meet Santa

HUNTSVILLE — Madison Behavior Therapy once again made sure each child had an opportunity to meet Santa Claus in an environment that allowed them to enjoy their special meet and greet.

Lindsay Chapman, executive director of Madison Behavior Therapy, said this is the fourth year they have held a Sensory Santa event. They hosted the event in cooperation with Birmingham, Alabama-based KultureCity, an organization that works to break stereotypes of autism and further a culture of inclusion, understanding and acceptance in communities across the United States.

“A lot of our kids couldn’t go to see Santa, and a lot of the families couldn’t get family pictures, so we decided that we’d do Sensory Santa, and we got photographers involved to donate their time so that they could get family photos,” Chapman said. “It’s fun. It’s very heartwarming. It’s rewarding.”

Chapman also noted that KultureCity helped donate various materials for the event.

The free, booked-up event allowed several children in the community to meet with Santa in a comfortable and quiet environment. They also received a special wrapped present at the end of their visit. A toy drive for this purpose was held in the weeks prior for inexpensive, gender-neutral gifts that could be educational in nature.

“We’ve had a lot of donations from people, and we’re really thankful,” said Bailey Simmons, a registered behavior technician with MBT.

This was Simmons’ first time being part of a Sensory Santa event, and like Chapman, she described it as “heartwarming.” She said she was “really excited” when she learned about it and was eager to do whatever she could to help.

“It’s really, really awesome because you get to see the joy on the kids’ faces when they’re able to really see Santa and see him ask them what they want for Christmas because they can’t usually do it normally,” she said. “A lot of Santas aren’t used to having to be very sensory, and whenever you have kids in the mall and stuff, it’s kind of crazy. It’s not nice and quiet like this, and you can’t just sit there for 10-15 minutes with the Santa Claus.”

One of Santa’s more sensory helpers, Mark Rowe, said he enjoys the experience of interacting with the children. He participated in MBT’s Sensory Santa event in 2016 and has worked similar events as well, gaining experience with a wide variety of children who have their own unique needs.

For Santa Mark, the most rewarding moments are when he can help children feel comfortable and make a connection with them in their short time together.

“Some of these kids come in and have difficulty at first … [but after] having a chance to warm up to me … before they leave, most of them will come up and give me a hug or give me a high five,” he said. “One little girl—she didn’t have anything to do with me at all, but when her daddy picked her up … and I stood up next to her, she gave me a kiss on the cheek.”

Simmons said the event was also a great way to help others in the community learn about MBT and the services they provide so they can help as many children and families as they can.

“I’m really thankful that we can be able to help other people,” she added.

MBT, which recently became BHCOE-certified, has two locations in Madison County. The Madison office is located at 230 Hughes Rd., Suite F, while the Huntsville office is located at 475 Providence Main St. NW, Suite 201. To learn more about them, visit madisonaba.com. To learn more about KultureCity and their mission, visit kulturecity.org.

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