Low sensory 'Sensitive Santa' to visit New Zealand shopping malls this Christmas

Westfield Malls has announced that its "Sensitive Santa" concept, which offers Kiwi families the opportunity to spend time with Santa in a quiet setting, will be in its malls this Christmas.

The concept, which seeks to give children on the autism spectrum or with sensory challenges a better experience when meeting St Nick, was first trialled in 2017 and will now be available more widely after what Westfield says was an "overwhelmingly positive response".

All sessions with Sensitive Santa are private, with dimmed lighting and without background music.

Phil McAveety from Scentre Group, which operates Westfield Malls, said: "We're focused on making Christmas merrier for our community. In listening to our customers' feedback and understanding their varying needs, we've curated the Sensitive Santa experience to make meeting Santa both comfortable and memorable for families."

Bookings for the experience are essential and Westfield warns that places are limited.

The move comes after Countdown supermarkets announced earlier this year that they would introduce a "quiet hour" so that families with autistic children could shop without the sensory overload that normally accompanies a trip to the supermarket.

The quiet hour was developed alongside Autism New Zealand, which provided advice to Countdown on how to best support customers.

The invisible nature of autism meant it was hard to create understanding or awareness around the issues people with autism face, chief executive Dane Dougan told the Herald earlier this year.

"We've had amazing feedback from the autistic community, who have benefited from quiet hour over the last year and the increased understanding of autism and sensory needs that it is having as well."

This article was first published on the NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.