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Sunday, March 3, 2024
March 3, 2024

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Clark County residents of all ages, abilities can have special, free celebration with Sensitive Santa

Parents can bring children with intellectual disabilities to meet a Santa sensitive to their needs

By , Columbian staff reporter
2 Photos
Stacy Abdollmohammadi&rsquo;s children visit with Santa Claus at Special Celebration&rsquo;s Sensitive Santa event last year.
Stacy Abdollmohammadi’s children visit with Santa Claus at Special Celebration’s Sensitive Santa event last year. (Photo contributed by Stacy Abdollmohammadi) Photo Gallery

Many families possess a treasured photo of a screaming child on the lap of a Santa, who’s acting like everything is fine.

Theresa Van Pelt said no parent has ever left Special Celebrations’ Sensitive Santa event with that kind of photo.

The event put on by a parent group and the organization PEACE NW welcomes people of all ages and abilities. It’s a place where parents can bring their children with intellectual disabilities to meet a Santa sensitive to their needs.

It’s a judgment-free zone for parents of those whose excitement about seeing Ol’ St. Nick in the flesh may lead to unexpected behavior, Van Pelt explains.

This will be the eighth year of Special Celebrations’ Sensitive Santa. The event from 10 a.m. to noon Dec. 9 at Stephen’s Place, 501 S.E. Ellsworth Road, Vancouver, will have a sensory waiting room for people who need time to get comfortable with Santa, free photography, crafts and snacks.

Oh, and there are also llamas.

“Santa always jokes that he gets (overshadowed) by the llamas,” Van Pelt said through a giggle. “Everyone goes to see the llamas.”

Unlike other Santa-greeting events, people of all ages at this event are eager to get a chance to speak to Santa.

“Our children and loved ones that have a disability often continue to celebrate throughout their life,” Van Pelt said. “We’re often told we can’t come to some activities because our child has outgrown the age limits. … A 35-year-old or a 65-year-old can come in … and sit on Santa’s lap and have their photo taken.”

Van Pelt started the group Special Celebrations in her craft room in 2015 for parents who wanted events where they felt their child was understood and welcome.

At first, it was a collection of about 10 families who planned events for their children with intellectual disabilities and made sure no member ever had a birthday party without friends. Now, Special Celebrations has grown to 650 families, Van Pelt said.

“The idea is that families know that they’re not alone walking the journey of parenting a child with a disability,” Van Pelt said.

Special Celebrations hosts many other events throughout the year, including Easter egg hunts.

Stacy Abdollmohammadi, who is the parent to a 7-year-old girl with an intellectual disability, has been coming with her family to these events for four years.

She appreciates that this Sensitive Santa is free, because it’s not guaranteed that someone will sit for a photo, and people get more time with Santa.

“Nobody looks at you strangely when your child is either freaking out about Santa or just loves Santa so much,” Abdollmohammadi said.

All her children love visiting Santa and seeing the llamas dressed like reindeer.

“There’s a lot more acceptance,” she said.

To register for this event, go to PEACE NW’s website, https://peacenw.org/.