Special Needs and Santa

Updated November 22, 2020

By Diana Cole November 22, 2020

A series of special events across the country will offer calmer environments for children with disabilities to enjoy some one-on-one time with Santa Claus in Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Chamblee, Doraville, and all-around Atlanta.

“ Caring Santa”, “Santa Cares”, and “Sensory Santa*” are coming to a mall near at participating malls!  Over 400 malls and other shopping destinations from Maryland to Hawaii will host sensory-friendly experiences with Santa.

Children with special needs and their families will have an opportunity to participate in the time-honored holiday tradition.  A private photo session with Santa in an environment set up to support the sensory, physical and other developmental needs of children with ALL abilities.

The malls will make some minor modifications to create a relaxing atmosphere the morning of Caring Santa, and the result of that will be a magical experience for families.  Some will walk away with their first-ever holiday photo of their child with Santa. Until now, visiting with Santa really wasn’t a reality for families of children with special needs.

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Participating Santas have been trained to take cues from parents and caregivers in order to meet each child’s individual needs, organizers say. Some are even knowledgeable in American Sign Language.

“Most of all, Santa remains flexible, kneeling next to a wheelchair, standing behind his chair to capture the photo or simply allowing extra time for each visitor to experience a time-honored holiday tradition,” said Ruth Rosenquist of Cherry Hill Programs, which is organizing the events along with Autism Speaks.

Unlike most Santa experiences, families are asked to reserve a time slot in advance for the special sensory-friendly events. Then, each child will be called up individually in order to avoid waiting in line. Quiet activities will be available to entertain kids while they wait.

Because of the Pandemic, there are no events for Sensory-Friendly.  

For more locations and states, please visit Autism Speaks at and search for “Santa”

Click on the picture below for more great information!

PLEASE NOTE:  We want to reiterate that we respect all points of view regarding safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, and are providing this information for you to use, or not use, as your family sees fit. Guidelines are ever-changing, so please be sure to double-check event details with the event host if you do choose to attend.  Please evaluate your family's health carefully before attending, and please follow all mask and social distancing requirements when attending any in-person event.

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