Why this Santa is so spe­cial to Liam

Sunday Mail - - NEWS - RE­BECCA BAKER

LIKE most five-year-olds, lit­tle Liam Sloan loves Christ­mas and adores the big man in red with the long white beard.

Liv­ing with an autism spec­trum dis­or­der has made a preChrist­mas visit to Santa a lit­tle more chal­leng­ing for him than many other young­sters.

His mum Aimee is thrilled he now has the op­tion to visit a spe­cially trained Santa in a quiet, calm set­ting with­out loud mu­sic or bright lights.

West­field Mar­ion is among a grow­ing num­ber of shop­ping cen­tres and re­tail­ers of­fer­ing chil­dren the chance to visit a “sen­sory-friendly” Santa.

“A cou­ple of years ago, we tried to take him to see a ‘reg­u­lar Santa’ and it was a night­mare,” Mrs Sloan said.

“We had to wait in line for such a long time and he doesn’t re­ally cope with wait­ing and it can be hard for him when other chil­dren are scream­ing or mak­ing a lot of noise.

“But this is amaz­ing; we’ve ac­tu­ally vis­ited twice. It is quiet, there’s no mu­sic, no lights and no rush­ing when you are with Santa. Liam loves Santa – most of the sig­nif­i­cant men in our lives, other than his dad, have beards, so he loves beards. It has been re­ally spe­cial.”

Autism SA CEO Jenny Kar­avo­los said she was buoyed by the in­creas­ing num­ber of busi­nesses em­brac­ing her or­gan­i­sa­tion’s autism-friendly char­ter, aimed to build in­clu­siv­ity, un­der­stand­ing and aware­ness of the autism spec­trum.

“Ev­ery par­ent wants the best for their child and it is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to be able to of­fer them the same op­por­tu­ni­ties and ex­pe­ri­ences other kids have,” she said. “Im­por­tantly, it al­lows these kids to en­gage in con­ver­sa­tions with their peers about shared ex­pe­ri­ences – they can now talk about their visit to Santa.”

“The other pos­i­tive thing is as aware­ness around autism grows, ac­cep­tance hap­pens and there is greater un­der­stand­ing of it, in­clud­ing some of the trig­gers.”

West­field spokes­woman Lucy An­dol­fatto said the re­tail gi­ant was pleased it could of­fer sen­sory-friendly Santa ses­sions.

“These ses­sions en­able fam­i­lies with chil­dren with sen­sory is­sues to visit Santa in a calm and quiet en­vi­ron­ment,” she said.

“This ini­tia­tive has made a real dif­fer­ence to how they are able to cel­e­brate Christ­mas.”

Pic­ture: TAIT SCHMAAL

AUTISM-FRIENDLY: Liam Sloan, 5, bonds with West­field Mar­ion’s spe­cial Santa.

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