Sensory Santa comes to Barksdale
By Staff Sgt. Philip Bryant, 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 09, 2019
BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- Every winter, millions of kids across America celebrate the holiday season with family and friends. Some go ice skating, others make gingerbread homes and many visit Santa to reveal what they want for Christmas. Seeing Santa has become an American tradition that usually results in a picture-perfect moment for parents but for some families, unfortunately the bright lights, noise and long lines in a public venue can be overstimulating.
With those kids in mind, the Exceptional Family Member Program put together an event for specific families to visit with Santa in a sensory-friendly atmosphere. The event included an intentionally calm environment for kids with autism and sensory issues where lights were dimmed, music was kept off and potentially startling noises such as jingle bells were eliminated from the scene to prevent scaring any kids.
“We want to offer services that directly impact the quality of life for these exceptional families,” said Sherri Kitchens, EFMP family support coordinator. “So it is vital that we continuously look for ways to meet the unique needs and concerns of these kids.”
This is the second year the Airman and Family Readiness Center has hosted the Sensory Santa after receiving positive feedback from last year’s event.
“We offered this Sensory Santa for the first time last Christmas because we had one family share an experience where their autistic child left terrorized by the visit in a public setting,” Kitchens said. “Families raved about last year’s Sensory Santa and some admitted that it was the first and only photo they have of their child with Santa or a family photo with everyone in it. It made us so happy to know that we were meeting a real need in our EFMP community.”
The four-hour family-focused event is one example of how the program is trying to help support military families with additional needs. Currently, there are approximately 630 EFMP families at Barksdale. That could be a spouse, child or dependent who has a special medical need, requires medical services for a chronic condition or receives ongoing services from a medical specialist. It could also be a child with special educational needs who is eligible for, or receives, special education services.
“[Sensory Santa] is a more personal feel and our kids feel comfortable in this setting because it’s low-key and they are familiar with the people that work here,” said Amanda Talley, a parent apart of the program. “With this event, they can totally be themselves and have fun enjoying the holidays.”
Now, seeing Santa has become a more inclusive Barksdale tradition that has brought a community of families together and spread holiday cheer, for a second year.