Flint, MI—In an effort to ensure every child gets to visit with Santa this holiday season, Easterseals MORC of Flint is hosting a free, sensory-friendly event for young people with autism on Dec. 15, 2022.

Katie Kogelmann, director of Easterseals MORC Genesee Family Services, said the disability services provider has been putting on the holiday event for roughly 30 years so that kids with sensory issues have an opportunity to meet Saint Nick more comfortably.

“When I say sensory, it just means, you know, maybe you have some sensitivity to light, to loud noises…or blinking lights,” Kogelmann said.

Lots of activity, noise and lights are relatively common at traditional holiday picture locations, such as shopping malls, and Kogelmann said children and adults with autism benefit from “a calmer environment to see Santa.”

Thursday’s event will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the nonprofit’s Flint office, located at 1420 University Ave., Flint, MI 48504.

Aside from a book giveaway, Kogelmann said guests can expect free photo opportunities with Santa Clause, hot chocolate, holiday activities, and a safe and welcoming environment for children with autism.

“I think the big thing for our office is the understanding the staff and the people that are helping have of some things that might occur for some of the kids that come in,” Kogelmann noted.

She gave an example of taking her youngest child, who has Down syndrome, to get his haircut when he was little.

“He has some sensory issues as well, and he would scream and cry—and just the sound of the hair clippers and any part of that experience was really tough,” Kogelmann said. “I remember as a parent thinking, ‘Well, all these people are here hoping to have a really nice, calm haircut today, and here’s my child that’s going to be screaming his head off for the entire time someone is trying to cut his hair.’”

She said she can laugh about those experiences now, but she recalled that at the time not only did other people not know what to do in relation to her son’s responses, neither did the person cutting his hair. 

That’s the difference in coming to an event hosted by a nonprofit dedicated to inclusion and access for people with disabilities, she said.

“I like to compare that [experience] to, for families that come in with their kids to this event, that when they come in Santa has an understanding and we have an understanding of things that might be going on for the kids,” she said. “There’s definitely a non-judgmental zone. We’re there to support and help kids have the best experience possible.”

Kogelmann welcomed any and everyone from the Flint community—including adults—to Thursday’s event, which will also be streamed live on Easterseals MORC’s Facebook page for those who cannot attend in-person. No RSVP is required.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....