Sensory-Friendly Holiday Happenings in Illinois
Fun, inclusive events the whole family can enjoy throughout Illinois!
How will you make memories this holiday season?
There are light displays, sensitive Santa opportunities, parades and more going on throughout Illinois.
Our Special Events page includes a roundup of opportunities designed specifically for youth with disabilities and special healthcare needs.
You can also browse this collection of special programs and event guides for opportunities to create some holiday magic and plenty of smiles:
- Autism Speaks and Cherry Hill Programs will provide sensory-friendly Santa experiences in Illinois and the St. Louis area on Dec. 3. These visits are free. Keepsake photo packages will be available for purchase. You must sign up to attend. Visit the Santa Cares website for a complete list of Santa’s stops. Be sure to select “Santa Cares”, “Caring Santa” or “Sensitive Santa” when checking your location. (Note some event dates and times may vary. Please check your location to confirm your date and time.)
- The National Federation of the Blind is offering letters from Santa and winter celebration letters in Braille to children who are blind or have low vision. The program is for children ages 10 and younger. Please complete the letter request form before Dec. 15. If you have any questions, call (410) 659-9314, ext. 2236, or email email@example.com.
- The Secret Sleigh Project is coordinating volunteers to provide in-home Santa visits to children who are medically fragile. Use the “Request a Santa Visit” form on the project’s website to request a visit.
- For families in the southern Illinois area, SI Families’ event calendar provides a great list of fun, seasonal activities. Other events in the area include Sensitive Santa at Heartland Regional Medical Center in Marion, the Carbondale Lights Fantastic Parade, and the DuQuoin Holiday Lights Fair.
- For options in central Illinois, check out these lists from ChambanaMoms.com and Springfieldmoms.org. Great places to see lights include Chatham Lights up the Park, Festival of Lights in East Peoria, and Mattoon Lightworks.
- For Chicagoland residents, WTTW Public Television, Chicago Parent Magazine and Kidlist have some great suggestions for things to do and see. Want to catch a show? Chicago Children’s Theatre features accessible weekends for children and their families.
- Don’t forget to check with your local zoos! The St. Louis Zoo and Lincoln Park Zoo will offer a sensory-friendly viewing option. Contact your local zoo to see what’s happening and when.
We will continue to add holiday events and activities, so please check our Special Events page often throughout the season.
If you know of a good sensory-friendly event to share, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note, the University of Illinois Chicago’s Division of Specialized Care for Children (DSCC) is not involved in organizing or scheduling these holiday events. If you have questions about a specific event, please contact the event sponsor or organizer.
DSCC Staff Spread Holiday Cheer to Families in Need
DSCC regional offices pitch in to provide gifts and Christmas magic to local families.
At the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Division of Specialized Care for Children (DSCC), we all share a common goal to help improve the lives of children with special healthcare needs and their families. This commitment often extends into the greater communities we serve and the organizations we partner with throughout the state.
This holiday season, the staff at several of our regional offices donated their time, resources and creativity to make sure local children in need have Christmas gifts and priceless memories. We’re proud of all of their hard work to be great community partners!
Mokena Regional Office
At our Mokena Regional Office, staff transformed their conference room into the North Pole to host their first “Pictures with Santa” event on Dec. 13.
The man in the red suit stopped by to visit with a small group of our participant families and pose for pictures.
One of the families shared it was the first time their children got to meet Santa. Previous attempts were either too difficult or impossible because their child was frequently in the hospital.
Both families went home with a donated toy and our calendar and coloring books.
Lombard Regional Office
Each year during the holidays, the building that houses our Lombard RO displays Christmas wreaths with tags attached. The tags have wishes on them from a boy or girl in the community whose family needs assistance.
Wishes range from makeup bags and books to items that they truly need, such as diapers and coats.
To help make these wishes come true, the Lombard Social Committee organized a silent auction on Nov. 28. The committee asked staff to donate any unused or gently-used items they had at home.
The auction raised $75, providing enough funds to fulfill the wishes for five children.
Rockford Regional Office
The Winnebago/Boone Foster Care Alliance is a collaboration of agencies that provide services to children in need in the community. Each year, the alliance organizes the “Adopt-An-Angel” project to provide Christmas gifts to local foster children and children involved with welfare services.
Our Rockford RO staff partnered with two of their building neighbors, the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois Guardianship Advocacy, to purchase gifts for these local “angels” this year.
Participating staff selected a tag for a foster child that included their name, age, gender and three gift ideas based on the child’s interests.
Rockford Regional Manager Shannon Jones said the original goal was to purchase gifts for 15 children. But, thanks to everyone’s generosity, the Rockford RO and their partners were able to provide gifts for 20.
“DSCC and the other state agencies within the RRO’s building have been participating in this program for over 10 years now, and it has been a great opportunity for everyone to come together to give back to the community we serve,” Shannon said.
Olney Regional Office
The Olney RO team recently had a “wrapping party” to benefit a special local family in need.
For the last several years, Olney staff have participated in the Adopt-a-Family program through the Good Samaritan of Richland County.
This year’s adopted family recently moved to the area for a fresh start. The single mom has three children, ages 2 to 12.
The program gave Olney staff a list of the family’s needs with clothing sizes, shoe sizes and so on.
The Olney team split up the shopping duties and brought in all of the purchased gifts for a wrapping party.
The gifts will be delivered to the family this week.
Despite everything on this mom’s plate, she won’t have to worry about giving her children a memorable Christmas morning.
Community Partners Brighten Holidays for DSCC Families
DSCC families in need receive gifts and necessities from our generous community partners.
Partnerships are a crucial part of our mission to help children and youth with special healthcare needs connect to services and resources. For 80 years now, DSCC staff has developed relationships with social service agencies and community organizations across the state to help improve the lives of our children and families. During this holiday season, we are especially grateful for our community partners who’ve stepped up to ensure that some of DSCC’s neediest families have a merry Christmas.
In the Springfield Regional Office, Care Coordinator Robin Mahnken worked together with the Salvation Army in Jacksonville and her dedicated team of colleagues to deliver piles of wrapped presents for a sick 1-year-old in our program and her three siblings. The girl was born with Down Syndrome and a heart impairment that required surgery a few months later. In November, she developed an upper respiratory infection and was hospitalized and placed on a ventilator.
Robin has stayed in close contact with the girl’s mother since her admission to the hospital and learned the family is greatly strained financially. During the first week of December, the mother asked Robin to help find any available Christmas assistance for her children. Though the deadlines for many local charities’ assistance programs had already expired, Robin spoke with a director at the Salvation Army, who made arrangements for Robin to “shop” their facility for items on each of the children’s wish lists while the mother stayed at her daughter’s side in the pediatric intensive care unit.
“I anticipated receiving an article of clothing and one or two toys for each child. I was overwhelmed by all of the gifts selected. Volunteers called to me from every direction suggesting this or that for one of the children,” Robin said. “The director kept telling me I hadn’t selected enough. I left with a carload of toys and clothing.”
With the mother in no position to wrap gifts at the hospital, Robin snapped photos of the items to show the mother and wrapped them herself. Robin saved the little girl’s packages to be wrapped by Springfield RO staff during their holiday party this week. Springfield RO members also donated funds to purchase a Walmart gift card for the family. Robin and her husband, with the family’s permission, delivered four huge bags of wrapped presents and the gift card to the appreciative family on Wednesday night.
At our Lombard Regional Office, staff members have developed a special bond with their building neighbor, Hope Fellowship. This bond was strengthened last year when Pastors Jeff Brewer and Jon Trott helped the office cope with the difficult loss of their assistant regional manager, who passed away unexpectedly in November 2016. The pastors’ support of the Lombard RO has continued ever since and earlier this month, Pastor Jeff asked Program Coordinator Assistant Kim Firkins if any DSCC families in the Lombard office’s coverage area need extra help during this year’s holidays.
Kim worked with the Lombard office’s managers and assistant managers to check with staff for families in need. Staff suggested a total of eight families, and Kim collected information about each family member and provided it to Hope Fellowship. Hope Fellowship’s parishioners purchased gifts for each family member. Their gifts include diapers, wipes, a homemade fleece blanket, pajamas, DVDs, gloves, hats and a generous assortment of gift cards for gas, groceries and various stores and restaurants. Hope Fellowship also provided stockings for each child and parent.
Kim coordinated the receipt of gifts, and Lombard’s Care Coordinators are delivering the items to the families.
Further north at our Rockford Regional Office, a Care Coordinator learned that a toddler was being discharged from a transitional care facility earlier this month after being separated from her family for a year.
“This little one became part of a bustling home of five brothers and sisters who were overjoyed to welcome her home,” her Care Coordinator Shan Johnson said.
On Dec. 14, the toddler’s mother told Shan that she had no Christmas presents for the children.
Shan contacted the Rockford Salvation Army, who “without hesitation” opened their doors for Shan and let her into their warehouse on a Sunday afternoon to handpick gifts for the children. They even provided gift bags.
“I will never walk past a (Salvation Army) red kettle again without thinking about this happy miracle,” Shan said.
A big thank you to these organizations, our staff and all of our community partners for their support and service to our families throughout the year!