Sensory Santa brings joy of Christmas to children with disabilities

Lila, who attends RIDBC Matilda Rose Centre, enjoyed her visit to Sensory Santa

Eleven month old Lila, who has hearing loss and is supported by Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC), recently enjoyed a visit Westfield Bondi Junction’s ‘Sensory Santa’. 

Sensory Santa was established to give children with a disability the opportunity to meet Santa in a low stress, private and sensory-friendly environment. RIDBC provided guidance to Westfield on this inititative to ensure it would best support the needs of children with vision or hearing loss.

Lila’s mother, Natalie, said Sensory Santa was an important opportunity for Lila.

“At a regular Santa photo experience I might have left in tears because of the other parents judging Lila, wondering why she wasn’t responding,” said Natalie. “I might have walked away thinking Lila couldn’t experience something as traditional as a Santa photo! Sensory Santa was perfect. It made me feel like Lila was the same as any other child.”

Lila had a difficult start in life.

“When I was pregnant a scan at 12 weeks came back as high risk for Down’s syndrome. Then at 26 weeks a scan picked up two heart issues,” said Natalie. “When she was 19 hours old Lila had her first heart operation and was later diagnosed with CHARGE syndrome, of which hearing loss is a symptom.”

Lila is now developing new skills with support from RIDBC Matilda Rose Centre, Waverley, which provides services to families looking to access the expert care and support that will allow their child to develop relationships, communication and language.

“When Lila was 7 months old I counted that she’d already had 186 medical appointments, so when RIDBC Matilda Rose Centre were able to provide home visits it was a great help,” said Natalie.

“We’ve now accessed so many of RIDBC’s services, it’s such a help to have them all in the one place. Everything from speech pathology to physiotherapy - even RIDBC’s cochlear implant program! Lila received a cochlear implant this year and is now being supported to learn to listen with her new ‘ear’.

“Our goal for Lila is to develop speech but I now know that even if that doesn’t happen RIDBC will be able to support her with a range of communications options - other organisations don’t provide that, so it’s great peace of mind to know Lila is in such good hands.”

RIDBC is Australia’s largest non-government provider of therapy, education, cochlear implant and diagnostic services for people with vision or hearing loss, supporting thousands of children, adults, and their families each year.

RIDBC relies heavily on fundraising and community support to be able to continue to make a difference in children's lives.  In order to maintain its intensive educational, clinical and research programs, the organisation needs to raise approximately $2.5 million every month.