Autism Friendly Santa’s Grottos Rolling Out Nationwide

Autism Friendly Grottos rolling out nationwide, enabling all families to experience the magic of Christmas.

After visiting her local Santa’s Grotto run by Magenta Star and informing one of the staff members that her son struggled with queuing, Jo-Ann D’Costa Manuel received incredible support and care from the staff running it. She filmed a short video clip of the experience and the response from parents was inspiring.

This year Jo-Ann has gone one step further, working closely with the Magenta Star to roll out  autism friendly grottos nationwide. Over 30 grottos have undergone autism training and prep and 15 grottos running the full service this year.

The grottos will have an early quiet hour, a special gift and awareness training for all staff including Santa and his elves. This year also sees the launch of social stories to help prepare children with autism before their visit. Twenty tickets are available at the Grotto on a first come first served basis on each day. Some grottos will display the national logo to identify they are running the service.

Alison Berneye, Managing Director of Magenta Star, says "We have seen an increasing number of Autistic children visiting our grottos in recent years. Whenever possible we help to make the child's visit to the grotto as magical as possible. As a caring company we train our staff to do everything possible to help improve the experience of all our visitors."

Jo-Ann D’Costa Manuel is the founder of Autism Parent Empower, an organization providing immediate access to autism intervention programmes. It launched its flagship programme in Parliament last year, funded by entrepreneur and philanthropist John Caudwell. Jo-Ann has had a busy year supporting families through training programs, awareness videos, campaigning and events. Her Tesco Autism Quiet Hour in January has spurred on other campaigns at stores across the country.

She states “This is a perfect ending to an incredible year of change, giving all the families we care so much about a much needed Christmas treat. They no longer have to feel alone or isolated on this journey, people do understand and autism awareness is spreading”.

“Christmas can sometimes provide a sensory overload for our children and with the Christmas rush and lack of Autism Awareness many families feel restricted to their homes, apprehensive to step out of the door. The magic of Christmas should be enjoyed by everyone, including parents and siblings of children with autism.”

Jo-Ann is determined to fly the flag for autism. "We need to proactively look forward and start creating change. Tomorrow’s generation need our support today. Organisations like Magenta Star are helping to create that change … this is huge and should be celebrated”.

For more information about our autism friendly hours please click here.