TORONTO -- Santa Claus spent part of Saturday at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital helping make Christmas memories for children with sensory and mobility issues.

Christmas music was played quietly inside a room that was set up for calm sessions with the jolly old elf. Fifteen-minute one-on-one sessions were booked for 30 families so that their children could take some time to get used to the surroundings and warm up to the bearded stranger.

For Tara Palmer-McPherson, bringing her twins to visit Santa was just what the family needed after a rough few weeks. 11-year-old Jacqueline has cerebral palsy, and her twin brother Tristan is on the spectrum.

"Coming here it was nice because it got us out of the house to do something fun. And we didn't have to worry about the business of malls, and the sicknesses that go with it. So it’s kind of nice that we were able to do normal stuff that people do, that people take for granted that not everyone else gets to do."

That’s exactly the goal the team behind the “Sensitive Santa” event is trying to achieve.


"They don’t have to worry about accessibility, if some of the kids use a walker or a wheelchair. So the kids don’t have to worry about the stairs, things like that," Heather Keating , team leader for the transitions, recreations and life skills program at Holland Bloorview, said speaking to CTV News Toronto.

Two-year-old Christian Diaz was meeting Santa for the first time ever. He clung tightly to his father Rodolfo’s shoulder as he entered the room. And it wasn't until Santa offered him a bite of a sugar cookie that Christian warmed up to the big guy.

"This is his first time coming to get a picture taken with Santa," Christian’s father said. "I had no idea how he was going to react."

Mom Itzel said her son was only recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and that this was the perfect setting for him. "It was very important for him to be introduced to Santa, and I found this to be less overwhelming than, for example, at a shopping mall."


Barb Tiano is the friendly Elf that jumps up and down, jingling bells behind the camera, encouraging the kids to smile and engage with Santa for the photograph. She and Santa have been visiting children in need for 16 years.

It started when they worked with the “chemo kids” at Princess Margaret hospital downtown. And it’s still as moving to Tiano today as it was when they first had the idea.

"It’s just something that you can see. Especially the kids, some of them they don’t know, they’re afraid. And we get them to smile or wave goodbye... you get a tear in your eye."


And the families all get a Christmas memory that they may not otherwise get. Before they leave, the children get to choose a gift. They’re all courtesy of an anonymous donor who just wants everyone’s Christmas to be special.