‘Quiet Santa’ makes Christmas tradition manageable for kids with autism, sensory disorders

Posted at 7:37 PM, Dec 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-21 00:00:59-05

MIDWAY, Utah – Some local radio hosts who have children with autism have created an event called "Quiet Santa," and it’s intended to give kids with autism or sensory disorders an experience with Santa that isn’t stressful or intimidating.

Kids from across the Salt Lake Valley and Summit County get to experience Santa without going to a crowded mall. For some parents of kids with special needs, this is the first time they get to see their kids enjoy the experience.

“And it’s like one of the milestone things that you always flip to that next page in the scrapbook, and there’s your kids with Santa, and they don’t get that,” said Erin Collard, a local radio host on Rewind FM 100.7. “And it’s one more thing that you feel like taken away from you as a family because of your child’s disability.”

Local radio hosts Todd and Erin Collard have twin boys that are autistic. They started the event because they understand how difficult it can be to raise a child with special needs over the holidays.

“You put them in this big crowded mall where there’s light blaring in their face, and there’s water features going, and escalators going up and down, and crowds of people who are pushing up against them, and smells and noises--and they’re freaking out--and then you want them to wait in a line to see this big red guy, who’s going to go booming at them, and is going to hurt their ears, and they’re going to freak out, and they’re going to cry,” Erin Collard said.

Autistic children can be extra sensitive to lights, sounds and people they don’t know. The quiet Santa interacts with children in a way that makes them feel comfortable and safe.

“Sometimes we just have to quiet it down,” Santa Claus said. “Make it a littler quieter. And then they have a good time, they have a good relationship with Santa Claus, and they get their very first picture with Santa Claus.”

The children are given time to color, relax and play before they are taken to visit Santa. Child therapist Gary Ren says it gives them time to prepare for something that may otherwise be stressful for them.

“Any sort of irritating noise for you might be ten times more irritating to them,” Ren said. “It’s easier for them to focus on certain things if there’s not a lot of distractions in the background and what-not.”

The Collards say they just want families like them to enjoy the holidays and make memories with their kids, in a place that understands their children and isn’t strange or intimidating.

“There’s a lot of tears going on behind those cameras, it’s very, very merry,” Santa Claus said.

“So he’ll be there on their level, and he takes their time when they feel comfortable, and so, mom and dad get the picture and everyone’s all dressed up, their hair’s all perfect, and they get finally get that scrapbook just like everybody else has,” Erin Collard said.

The event is also taking place Monday and Tuesday, December 21 and 22, at the Cafe at 50th West in Salt Lake City. There is still room to sign up for the free event. For more information, click here.