SANTA Sensory-friendly St. Nick visits Anthem Outlets By April Morganroth A very special kind of Santa is returning to The Outlets at Anthem. The twinkling lights, holiday cheers, dazzling displays and the booming music coupled with large crowds aren’t things most would even bat an eye at this time of year—unless, of course, you or a family member happen to be on the autism spectrum. In which case, things can easily and often do go awry very quickly. Something as simple as a visit to Santa during the holiday season can become a nightmare for a family with an autistic member. In fact, according to the Autism Speaks Arizona spokeswoman Heidi Naranjo, many families forego the Santa experience simply because it’s so traumatic. So often, siblings also miss out on holiday experiences, such as visiting Santa’s workshop in between Children’s Place and Polo Ralph Lauren on the mall’s east side. The Outlets at Anthem are making it a little easier for those families. From 9 to 11 a.m. Sunday, December 8, families with specialneeds children are invited to visit the sensoryfriendly Santa Workshop to see the big guy.
Space is limited and slots fill up fast, according to Outlets at Anthem General Manager Christina Henning. To sign up, visit outletsanthem.com, click on the “Santa Cares: A Sensory-Friendly Santa Photo Experience” tab to be directed to the Eventbrite signup. “We just want to let families know this is a free event and they are free to bring cameras, cellphones or tablets to snap their own photos. We will be offering a professional photo package for a fee at the event,” Henning says. “For those families who can’t make that time slot, or if spots fill up, they are still more than welcomed to come and see the sensoryfriendly Santa, just it will be with the general public. We will, of course, let Santa know he has a special package in line to see him.” Naranjo says Autism Speaks and Cherry Hill Programs partnered with malls and shopping centers nationwide to dim Santa’s workshop lights, lower the sound of nearby tinkering elves and extend the time each child can spend with Santa. Many autistic children need to warm up to Jolly Ol’ St. Nick, before approaching him. Santa will even get down to a child’s level on his famous Christmas red carpet in his shop, just to make an autistic child and family feel welcomed. “All families with children with autism and other special needs can enjoy the timehonored tradition of a visit with Santa, in a more subdued and calmer environment,” Naranjo says. “We open up Santa’s workshop, one day out of the season, two hours early, specifically for families with sensory and autism needs,” Henning says.
According to the Centers for Dis-
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ease Control and P r e v e n t i o n ’s last report in 2014, roughly 1 in 71 children aged 8 were identif ied w it h an autism spectrum disorder in Arizona. It is 15% higher than its previous study where 1 in 59 children aged 8, were identified with ASD. Although the CDC estimates that number to be closer to 1 in 59 in Arizona, a spokesperson did say it can change once the new report is released in 2020. “Even though the rates of autism in Arizona seem to have gotten better from the last report, it is important to realize these numbers are only estimates,” said Dr. Christopher Smith, Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center vice president and research director. “Given these rates are only based on 8-yearold children and people continue to get diagnosed with ASD after age 8, it is probably most accurate to consider the rates to be between 1.5 and 2% of the population.” However, Smith says the importance still lies with early detection and diagnosis. The CDC reports many children with ASD typically start to show autism symptoms and signs by age 3 and are diagnosed many times before entering kindergarten. But, some chilSanta continues on pg. 20