Avera offers Sensory Santa program in Mitchell, Sunday Dec. 16

Some children are sensitive to new places or strangers, especially when it comes to meeting Santa Claus during the holiday season.

Avera Pediatric Therapy on Havens Street in Mitchell is offering Sensory-friendly Santa so kids have a more personal, easy-going experience to feel the holiday spirit.

At just two-and-a-half years old, Haley Vogel has had a pretty complex medical history.

"She's had an undiagnosed disease for the first six months of her life, she had cancer, Neuroblastoma, rounds of chemo," Haley's mom Paula Vogel said.

When Paula heard about the opportunity to meet Santa right in their hometown of Mitchell, she was thrilled. In fact, occupational therapist Melissa Brissette said it's a new concept this year.

"A parent approached me and said 'my child has never been photographed with Santa, they can't tolerate the lights, it's too stressful, my child screams in public and people look at me and I get uncomfortable. I just really would like to have his picture with Santa and a normal childhood and a positive experience so it's not stressful and could you help me out?' I said 'sure'," Avera Occupational Therapist Melissa Brissette said.

Sensory Santa was born.

"We'll have dim lighting that react to bright lights, that can be a very uncomfortable stimuli. Not loud, chaotic. People will be here, minimal people. No hustle and bustle. No scents that can bother the system," Brissette said. "Not all families are jolly at Christmastime. It can be very stressful."

"Sometimes you'll see videos and pictures of screaming kids or sad but a lot of it is because of the environment they're in. This calming environment has provided them an opportunity to see Santa on their own terms in their own environment so I'd encourage it," Vogel said.

So far, so good for Santa's little helper.

"She's doing wonderful. She loves Santa.Obviously, she feel very comfortable," Vogel laughs.

Santa enjoys it, too.

"It's a good opportunity to try and help out some of the families... especially when a lot of them get scared," Sensory Santa said.

Families, like the Vogels, are thankful to have sensory-friendly activities in Mitchell.

"A lot of the parents travel so we have kids come in from Pierre, Huron and otherwise they have to travel to Sioux Falls which is a lot on a family for a weekly basis. It's very important we have localized support for these children to be successful," Brissette said.

Avera Therapy Pediatrics on Havens Street in Mitchell welcomes you and your family to spend time with Sensory Santa this Sunday, December 16th, from 1:00 until 4:30 p.m. by appointment only for ten minutes each.

To book yours or learn more about the program, call (605) 995-6370 or visit Avera.org.