OKC Santa Claus Caters To Children With Special Needs

Saturday, December 6th 2014, 10:57 pm
By: News 9

Taking a photo with Santa Claus is something kids enjoy doing every year.

But the process of getting that perfect picture is not so enjoyable for some children with special needs.

"He doesn't like lines, he doesn't like change or loud noises so we just don't do it at all," said Nicole Keenan.

Keenan can't just go to the mall to get her two-year-old son Christopher's Santa snap-shot since he has a sensory perception disorder making him more sensitive to bright lights and loud noises.

So she brought Christopher to see the 'Sensory Santa' at the Animal Resource Center near the S. I-35 Service Road and SE 79th Street in Oklahoma City. It was where Christopher was first met with therapy dogs.

"He absolutely loves it here, everyone's calm, they let him do his own thing on his own time, and he doesn't get overwhelmed," Keenan said.

Overwhelmed was how sisters Shanda Twitty and Mary Smith said they felt trying to get their children with autism to take holiday pictures.

“A lot of things can be over stimulating, so we really have to make adjustments and make them more comfortable,” said Twitty.

"It can really be a slow process, it can take 30 seconds versus four minutes, we've learned that with our kiddos."

So they started hosting the special Santa photography sessions along with the nonprofit called 'New Leash On Life' to better transition the kids for a picture with St. Nick, who is trained to work well with special-needs children.

"For them, it's that one time that they can get a family photo, and they can see Santa, and they don't have to worry about all those outside environmental factors, we don't want them having meltdowns," Smith said.

“Transitioning children on the spectrum into activities, rather than pushing them is such a better experience for them overall.”

The event was free and the sisters put up their own money to pay for food and toys. Each person involved, including the photographer and Santa Claus, was a volunteer.

“It's a gift that God has given me, and I just enjoy giving back this Christmas season,” said John Bloomberg, who has been a natural-bearded Santa for 15 years.

The families get the photos emailed to them to print on their own, making it a gift that keeps on giving.

“I would encourage any parent, who has a child with sensory issues to come,” Keenan said.

"We'll do it next year."

This was the second year for the Sensory Santa event that lasted about seven hours. 

For more information, email Mary Smith at maryavis@gmail.com.