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Autism Expert Discusses "Quiet Santa"

Released: 12/19/2013 3:25 PM EST
Source Newsroom: University Hospitals Case Medical Center
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CLEVELAND, OHIO -- Large crowds, twinkling lights, holiday jingles blaring on speakers, the mall is sure to carry all the festive trimmings we associate with the holidays. And of course, no mall would be complete without children lined up to see Santa. But while some kids jump for joy to sit in the lap of the man who holds their gifting fate, others quickly turn to their parents or to tears, at the sight of the red suit and beard. And for children with autism, visiting with Santa can be an even more intimidating and overwhelming experience.

Fortunately, as autism awareness continues to rise, so does the need for alternative, more sensitive events for children diagnosed with a condition on the autism spectrum. Shopping centers around the country have increasingly integrated a “Silent Santa” or “Quiet Santa” program so that autistic kids who want to participate in the holiday custom can do so in an environment that limits all the sensory stimuli.

“How that’s done is that you do it in a situation where the Santa is not as intimidating, but Santa is always going to look like Santa,” says Max Wiznitzer, MD, a pediatric neurologist who specializes in autism, at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. “However, this Santa is not going to use as loud a voice. The child will visit Santa in a quiet, more subdued atmosphere, in an environment where there is not as much visual and auditory stimulation.”

Dr. Wiznitzer comments on the holiday challenges children with autism may face, and provides tips parents can use with their child to make sure he or she has a positive experience when participating in these types of holiday events.

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