By LOIS KINDLE
For children with sensory sensitivities, including those on the autism spectrum, noises, even joyful ones during the holiday season, can feel like a physical assault.
“Celebratory music and long waits in crowded lines can present a perfect winter storm of sensory overload,” said Luz Gaona, a bilingual speech-language pathologist with Southshore Bilingual Therapy Inc. in Ruskin. “A visit to Santa may sound wonderful but can be a sleigh full of problems.”
Inspira Tampa Bay Inc., a 501(c) (3) organization Gaona founded to bring all-inclusive programs for children with sensory sensitivities and disabilities to the community and raise public awareness, will host Sensory Santa for children living in southern Hillsborough County from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Dec. 3, in the conference room at the SouthShore Regional Library, 15816 Beth Shields Way, Ruskin. The event is free, and there’s no need to RSVP.
“It’s aimed at providing children with sensory sensitivities and their siblings an opportunity to see Santa in a welcoming environment,” Gaona said. “All children in the South Shore area are invited to participate.”
“We all have sensory sensitivities involving any of the five senses at different levels,” she added. “But they are not as heightened as they are with these children. “
The library’s conference room will be transformed into a sensory-friendly wonderland with family-friendly activities, including arts and crafts, where children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and/or other communication and/or sensory differences are invited to meet Santa without waiting in long lines. While supplies last, all kids who attend will receive a gift.
The Inspira Tampa Bay team, volunteers from Southshore Bilingual Therapy and graduate students from Gannon University will join the event to help children during the activities and provide calming strategies, as needed.
The public is invited to support this event through tax-deductible donations, which will go towards the purchase of calming tools, like weighted blankets, fidget toys, noise-cancelling headphones, sunglasses, squeeze balls, puppets and more.
Donations of these items are also appreciated. To be available for the event, they need to be dropped off no later than Dec. 2 at Southshore Bilingual Therapy, 906 U.S. 41 N, Suite B, Ruskin.
Last year, before the creation of the nonprofit Inspira Tampa Bay Inc., Southshore Bilingual Therapy Inc. hosted the first Sensory Santa in the area. About 30 children turned out for the event.
For more information or to donate, call Luz Gaona at (813) 323-5783 or email email@example.com/.