Sunday morning with Sensitive Santa

Don’t let the absence of photos of Santa Claus fool you. Philip’s trip to the mall this morning to see Kris Kringle was a huge success.

I had read about the “Sensitive Santa” events before. Participating malls open their doors early for autistic patrons to meet with Old Saint Nick in a sensory-friendly environment. This was the first year that one of these events was held in the mall closest to us.

Even though it is the closest one, the mall is still over thirty miles one way. Philip and I were on the road this morning by 8:30 am. That put us at the mall just after 9:00 am. I don’t know about Philip, but I enjoyed arriving at the deserted mall. There were no frenzied drivers competing with me for a parking spot. Many of the lights were off since the stores were still closed. No cheesy Christmas Muzak assaulted our ears. We weren’t getting bumped by bargain hunters.

Philip was free to walk/rock his way through the food court and into the center of the mall at his own pace. Once there, his gaze went to the ceiling. It took me a few minutes to figure out what had caught his attention: the spinning propellers of an inflated airplane flown by Santa Claus suspended in the corner. This decoration seemed to be the highlight of Philip’s visit. But that was okay. He could stand (or sway) and stare as long as he wanted. We weren’t blocking anyone’s way. There was plenty of room on a bench to sit down and look up.

Of course, the inanimate Santa stole the show from the man dressed in the red suit. While Philip accepted his offer of a candy cane, he had no interest in sitting beside him for a photo. But that was okay. There was no line of kids waiting their turn, and the staff knew not to force him.

When it became obvious that Philip really wasn’t going to stand beside Santa, we accepted our ticket for a free train ride. “Do you want to ride the train?” I asked Philip. “Train,” he said back. Then he tried to find the word on his iPad. I quickly added it so that he could repeat the request.

Our vocabulary expanded, we went to wait for the next departure. Philip sat down on a bench to stare up at airplane Santa and the huge snowman in the opposite corner. I watched one of the boys riding the train flapping his excitement. The familiar gesture made me smile.

When it was his turn to board the train, he handed over his ticket and followed the conductor to an empty car. I tried to get a photo of Philip as he smiled, but I didn’t want to be that mom running around the fence around training trying to get the perfect snapshot. It didn’t seem right for the occasion.

After disembarking, I led Philip to the refreshment table. “Do you want a cupcake?” I asked. “Cupcake,” he mimicked. I quickly had to add the word to his iPad app, too.

A pic before we were covered in green frosting

I turned down offers of hot chocolate and water, but helped Philip pick a chocolate cupcake. I found an empty chair at one of the tables set up for the event that allowed Philip to watch airplane Santa some more. Philip proceeded to grab bits of green frosting off the cupcake. He usually hates to eat frosting, but this stuff seemed to appeal to him. Of course, he then had green frosting on his coat and pants, on the table and on Mommy.

Once I had Philip cleaned up as best I could, we went back to the refreshment table. I prompted Philip to say “thank you,” but he spontaneously waved and said, “bye” in response to the lady at the table.

As we were wending our way through the food court and game area to the exit, Philip stopped in front of a Wishing Well Coin Race. He took his iPad and found the word “ball.” I could understand his request. It did look like a great place to toss a ball. However, I took out a penny to show him how the funnel worked. He was delighted.

I was, too. I hope that today’s event was the first annual. This had to be the most relaxing trip to a mall I’ve ever had. And maybe next year, I’ll get a photo of Philip with Santa Claus.

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