Children sitting happily on Santa’s knee, smiling for the camera – it’s a Christmas tradition.
But for families of children with sensory issues, capturing the magic is not as simple.
After receiving requests from parents three years ago to help make their children’s Christmas dreams come true, MarketPlace Raymond Terrace is now well known for its ‘Sensitive Santa’ sessions.
There’s no music, very little lighting and plenty of time to get comfortable before the photographer captures the joy.
“We were originally approached by parents of children with autism and we thought it’s unfortunate they miss out on a lot of things other children enjoy,” MarketPlace Raymond Terrace Centre Manager, Colleen Mulholland-Ruiz, said.
“We got together and asked: ‘What do you need?’ ‘What are you looking for?’ and talked to the photography company about what we could do.
“We then looked at making some time slots in quiet times where we turn the lights down, there’s no music in the background, and no other stores open except for Woolworths.
“We make sure we give enough booking time so they can have quality time with Santa, taking into account it takes them a bit to get comfortable and for mum and dad to enjoy the moment.”
Green Hills Clinical Psychology’s Senior Registered Psychologist, Ben Laverack, said the initiative goes a long way when it comes to helping children on the spectrum feel included within the community.
“Kids with autism can feel excluded at times, for example, at school, so this inclusive approach helps them be a part of Christmas traditions and combats that feeling of exclusion,” Mr Laverack said.
“Children with autism can be triggered by noises, smells, lights and the amount of people around them, so this eliminates those factors, which often deter these children from participating in festive celebrations.
“It enables kids with sensory and social difficulties to enjoy the experience, but in their own way rather than feeling overwhelmed.”
It’s become such a popular experience over the years that, this time around, the centre is looking to increase the hours of sessions, which are held both in the morning and of a night.
“We have received some beautiful letters and Facebook messages,” Mulholland-Ruiz said.
“Every child deserves that magical moment and every parent deserves to see them enjoying that magical moment.”
Quiet time with Santa will begin on Tuesday 1 December, 6pm and Sunday 6 December, 8am.
Visit MarketPlace Raymond Terrace’s website for bookings.