Low light, hushed tones and Santa.
There was something different about the Applebee's restaurant in Parole Sunday morning. Instead of wait staff hustling to deliver orders or busing tables, patrons found a much more placid atmosphere, including a Santa in the corner attending to children with special needs.
Applebee's was hosting the RISE for Autism Foundation's "Sensory Friendly Pancake Breakfast with Santa."
The quiet atmosphere was a relief for more than 150 people who attended.
Children with autism struggle in loud environments, which makes it difficult to take them to restaurants and see Santa at the mall, said Robyn Hickey of Broadneck. She was enjoying breakfast with her son who has autistim and more than a half-dozen other children and parents.
"It's a lot easier without the noise," Hickey said. "Most people don't realize the din you have in restaurants."
The music and the lights were turned down. There also was a quiet section, an arts and crafts area, and a St. Nick trained to work with children with autism and related disorders.
This was the second year the RISE for Autism Foundation held the event. Based out of Severna Park, the foundation provides resources, interventions, support and education to families of children with autism and related disorders.
While last year's breakfast was more of a fundraiser, this year's event was meant to serve the autism community, said Executive Director Cheryl Antlitz said.
"It gives parents a chance to come out and enjoy their breakfast and not have to deal with any stares or judgment," Antlitz said. "We're letting the kids be kids."
Tania Hendrickson's family in Crofton doesn't usually go to restaurants because they tend to create a "sensory overload." One of her three children has autism, another has Asperger syndrome.
If the family does go out to eat, it's during non-peak hours. The family has the same problem when it comes to seeing Santa. Long lines, coupled with the noise and chaos of the mall, make it difficult.
"Something like this finally gives the kids a chance to see Santa," she said.
For more information on the RISE for Autism Foundation, visit www.riseforautism.com. ___