Friday 8 December 2017

How our autistic and neurotypical family visited SantasGrotto

Autistic boy with iphone and rest of family with Santa

Visiting Father Christmas can be a few moments of magic in the chaotic run up to Christmas.  Faces alight, beaming smiles and kids playing on iPhones.  What, playing on iPhones?  OK, so that's one of things that we have when our autistic kids visit a Santa's Grotto, but this year it didn't matter at all.

Often going to see Father's Christmas in one of the many Grotto's that appear around this time is a bit of a no no for us.  We have three kids; Anthony is nine and has autism and ADHD, David is six and he has 'the not talking type of autism' as Anthony would say, and little Jane if four years old.

Last year I managed to take Jane to see Father Christmas.  It was great but I wondered if she would have to miss out this year.   Jane will soon be five and is very excited about Christmas this year.  She's a King in the nativity at school and everyone who comes to our house in the last week has been . made a Christmas card, using nearly all of my printer paper.   Our difficulty is that things like the Shopping Centre or Department Store Santa Grottos just don't work for us.  But this year we had a bit of luck.  We were invited to the Museum of London Santa's Grotto, and it was perfect for us.

Tucked away in the back of a life size recreation of a Victorian street called the 'Victorian Walk gallery' on the lowest floor of the Museum of London is Santa's Grotto.  A fitting place given that many of our Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas Tree for example, come from the Victorian period.

Here's some of the things that made it possible for us, and probably many other families to visit Santa's Grotto.

Boy and Man in Museum

There's no queue
Now I know it makes sense, kids have to learn to queue and if there's an attraction then people have to queue for it.  The difficulty for many kids with autism and ADHD is that waiting is really difficult. Turn taking is something they have to learn over a period of time and waiting for Father Christmas is not one of the best time for trying this out. Anthony also has physical difficulty in standing still making waiting in line even harder.   At the Museum of London visits are booked in advance and this means there's virtually no time waiting once you arrive for your slot.

It was peaceful (apart from us)
It wasn't too busy or loud for us.  Lots of people want to see Father Christmas and this not only means there is a queue but lots of people, making lots of noise, making quick, unexpected movements and sounds.  There's often additional Christmas music.  This all sounds scary for many with autism. Here, however, the Grotto is tucked away in the Victorian Walk so the loudest thing there is us.

The visit wasn't rushed
"Hello, how are you, come sit here and tell me your name and what you want for Christmas?"  Sounds fine, except Anthony's mind has just exploded with all that information.  He is super excited and this added to his difficulties means he needs time to process the information put to him.  Rushed Santa visits are almost pointless.

Our visit was not rushed at all.  We had plenty time to come in, find a space to be for a few moments and process what was happening.

Girl looking up at sky on ceiling

There was space
Tiny Grotto's are a hazard in our family.  We are an extremely jumpy family of five, and all five of us need to go into a Grotto in order for us all to cope and have fun.   David needs to jump about as he experiences what is happening.  Despite being tucked away, Santa's Grotto had plenty of space and even chairs for the kids to sit in. This was helpful as it gave them direction.

Father Christmas was prepared for us
There was time for Santa to be briefed that our kids may be a little 'excited' and this made a big difference to the visit.  People not having to guess why our kids are acting the way they are saves us a lot of time.  David doesn't talk and may appear to be ignoring Santa altogether, when in fact he's excited and interpreting what's happening in his own way.

Within a few seconds of being at the Museum Grotto, David had my phone out and was playing a PNP video of Santa on the phone. This was his way of making a connection with his environment and what he knew.   And Father Christmas pointed to the phone and said 'Look there I am', which was a great way of working with what David was doing.

Father Christmas asked the all children some questions and when it came to David, he asked his sibling's help in guessing what David liked to play with.  He waited patiently while we asked and signed to David to say 'Father Christmas' and he probably didn't know that this was the first time David had addressed a person like this.

Towards the end of the visit, each of the kids were given a Victorian style gift by Father Christmas and said goodbye and 'Merry Christmas' nicely.

It was wonderful, relaxed, happy and made me beam from ear to ear.

Boy looking at lights in printing press exhibit

After all the excitement our family looked around the lower floor of the Museum of London.  We'd never been before and I thought it was really well considered.  Many of the exhibits were in some animated or interactive.  Jane loved the pleasure gardens, David enjoyed the lights around the printing press and was fascinated with the pop-up book by the Paddington Bear exhibit that's there until 19th December.  Anthony enjoys speed in sports and liked the 2012 flame display.

We did have a few running and lift incidents, but managed to track all three children down before we left.  

I suspect Father Christmas had little idea how extra special the visit was for us or other families like us.  The kids, and even David, were certainly excited about the whole adventure into London.  And I'm very glad we went, it's great that we can find places that work for us, and this was very much one of the them.

The Museum of London was very easy to find.  We went to St Paul's and from there you can see the 'Museum of London' writing on the outside of the building.  The museum offers free ear defenders from reception for people on the autistic spectrum who may be sensitive to noise and operates several 'Morning Explorer' events aimed at children on the autistic spectrum which happen before the museum officially opens. 

The Victorian Santa's Grotto is open on dates until 23rd December inclusive and needs to be booked in advance.  
Our family were given free entry for purposes of review and would thoroughly recommend it.  

All views and opinions are my own and independent.


  1. It sounds truly magical, and just perfect for your family. So pleased you managed to go and enjoyed it x Thanks for sharing with #WotW

  2. If you ask me the real Santa was around for you this year. Magical memory-making that suited your family - perfect! I learn a lot from your posts and I do hope Santa gets to know about this post somehow too - I am sure it would make his Christmas #TheMMLinky. Oh and have always loved this museum

  3. Sounds absolutely amazing. We have a 2 hour wait to see our Father Christmas! #KCACOLS

    1. Wow, 2 hours is a lot! Simply wouldn’t be possible for our kids, we’d have to give it a miss.

  4. What a lovely day out for your family. It sounds so perfect #kcacols

  5. I am so impressed that the grotto was able to make your family feel welcomed and comfortable, which I suppose, is just the Christmas spirit continuing! What magical memories for everyone! Lovely! #KCACOLS Happiest of holidays to you and yours! xoxo

  6. Sounds like a wonderful day for your family, so lovely it was so calm and no queues :) Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time.

  7. So glad you had a wonderful experience and was magical for your little tribe x #KCACOLS

  8. What a lovely sounding Santa visit. I think a lot of places are offering prebooked slots now which in my opinion is much better :) #KCACOLS


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