The Richmond Register

December 2, 2013

Special visit planned for children with autism

‘Sensory Santa’ will be part of library’s Christmas party

By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — Seeing Santa at the mall might be enjoyable for some children and scary for others, but for most families, it is an annual tradition that fills their photo albums with unforgettable photos.

However, for parents of children with autism, the Santa visit often is impossible.

“There’s loud noises, long lines and flashing lights,” said Jennifer Gray, who along with her husband, Ryan, have a 6-year-old son with autism. “They get overwhelmed.”

This year, families like hers will be able to enjoy the Christmas tradition of a visit with St. Nick on Saturday at the Madison County Public Library in Richmond through an event called Sensory Santa.

The Grays, who are from Corbin, founded Kentucky Sound Down in 2011, a nonprofit that provides events for children with autism or sensory-processing issues and their families to enjoy.

The Sensory Santa is planned in conjunction with the library’s annual Christmas party. A room will be set aside from 10:30 to 12:30 called the “relaxation room” where special-needs children and their families can take a break from the normal hubbub of the party.

From noon to 1 p.m., Santa will visit the room. However, he will simply walk around and not approach children, Gray said.

“Santa’s not going to be loud and boisterous,” Gray said. “They can approach Santa on their own.”

Parents will be able to take pictures if they wish.

Richmond parents Khalil and Kristen Tibourtine, and their daughter, 8-year-old Emma, have participated in Kentucky Sound Down activities for about three years. Kristen is now a board member.

One of those activities are special screenings of children’s movies. Working in cooperation with a theater, the movies shown are not in 3-D, the rooms are not darkened all the way and children are allowed to get up from their seats.

Also, outside drinks and food are allowed to be brought in for children who have allergies.

Kristen Tibourtine said she was unable to take Emma to a movie before attending the special screenings because she knew her daughter would become easily overwhelmed and act out.

“You don’t want to ruin anyone else’s movie experience,” Tibourtine said.

However, now that Emma has gone to several movies with Kentucky Sound Down, she can attend regular cinema showings with no problem, Tibourtine said. The key was giving her the opportunity to have that learning experience in a supportive and nonjudgmental environment, her mother added.

Kentucky Sound Down is a nonprofit that is funded entirely by donations. The movie screenings are free to parents as is the Sensory Santa event Saturday.

Kentucky Sound Down also is sponsoring Sensory Santa events Dec. 14 at Belk in Corbin in and Dec. 21 at the public library in London.

Sarah Hogsed can be reached at shogsed@richmondregister.com or 624-6694.