This Santa is learning to connect with special needs children

Dec 12, 2018

THOMPSON STATION, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  Sensory Santa has found his way to Tennessee just in time for Christmas.

Thompson Station resident Sid Heffington started playing Santa at his church several years ago. He noticed Santa was having trouble connecting with some children, especially those with special needs.

So Heffington began talking with special needs teachers he knew about how to better serve those kids. At their recommendation, Santa toned down the “Ho, ho, hos” for children with sensory issues. He also began sitting on a bench, rather than a chair, so children could keep their distance if they wished.

“Try to make it an environment that they get to control when they feel comfortable with Santa and when they don’t. The kids generally after a couple minutes would scoot right over next to Santa.”

But Heffington noticed that some children still weren’t coming to see Santa. They simply couldn’t handle the loud, crowded public setting. So this year Sensory Santa is making home visits.

Heffington made one of those visits this past weekend. He says the parents were grateful, but says he got more out of the visit than anyone.

“It was just really nice for me to see that child come up and give Santa a big hug. It was very nice and the family seemed to like the fact that they were right there in their own home with the grandparents and everything.”

Sensory Santa will visit for free and still has some dates open before Christmas. Here's Sid Heffington's email address: sidheffington@att.net.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For a more complete story about Sensory Santa, check out this article by MTSU journalsim grad Emily West in the Tennessean.