Sensitive Santa a hit for Yanchep boy with autism

Oskar Zadow (4), of Yanchep, with Santa.
Oskar Zadow (4), of Yanchep, with Santa.

A BOY with autism avoided the stressful experience of meeting Santa in a crowded shopping centre recently, instead having a dedicated photo session with him after hours.

People on the autism spectrum have varying degrees of difficulty in social communication and interactions, and Yanchep resident Tara Zadow said ordinary activities could be challenging for her four-year-old son Oskar, who is autistic.

“Going to the shopping centre can be difficult when it’s very busy or very loud, certain noises can trigger Oskar to have a meltdown,” she said.needs catered for

“Equally, lots of people can make Oskar very nervous, then I feel nervous and we need to leave before he gets too distressed.”

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To cater for families like the Zadows, Ocean Keys shopping centre in Clarkson held a dedicated ‘Sensitive Santa’ photo session after hours on November 29. It was attended by eight families with autistic children.

Ms Zadow said the initiative removed a lot of anxiety from the festive photo experience.

“People often stare at Oskar for behaving a bit differently which makes him upset and then he tries to make a run for it,” she said.

“Sensitive Santa takes the pressure off; I don’t have to apologise or explain Oskar’s behaviour because the families there are in the same boat and it’s just a much more enjoyable experience.

“We end up with a photo of Oskar happy and smiling, rather than one of him stressed or no photo at all.”

Centre manager Karen Draper said the centre planned to make the event a regular fixture each Christmas.

“Every child should have the opportunity to meet Santa and have a photo in an environment where they feel safe and relaxed,” she said.