Sensory Friendly and Inclusive Holiday Events in Des Moines 2023

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Sensory Friendly and Inclusive Holiday Events in Des Moines 2023

Enjoy this list of inclusive and sensory-friendly holiday events for families. From meeting Santa, enjoying fun crafts engaging in holiday-themed activities, and more. We continually update this post throughout the season.

Bookmark these other fun holiday guides to plan this season:


For those who have difficulty shopping due to sensory sensitivities, Walmart implemented sensory-friendly hours for shoppers daily from 8:00 a.m. to 10 a.m. Wall TVs will be changed to a static image, lights will be dimmed as able and the radio will be off. 

Sensory Friendly Christmas Party

Kind and Uplifting ABA, Pleasant Hill, IA; 525 NE 72nd St, Pleasant Hill, IA 50327, USA

December 2nd from 2 to 4 p.m

Join Kind and Uplifting ABA for their Sensory Friendly Christmas Party including photos with Santa, fun Christmas crafts, and snacks. This event is for children with special needs who are sensitive to noise and crowds but want to meet Santa Claus. Register for this event on their website.

The Special Santa Event

Journey Church in Urbandale, Iowa

December 2nd from 1 to 4 p.m.

The 2023 Special Santa Event for children is coming back to Santa’s Workshop at Journey Church in Urbandale! You can register for a personal visit for your family with Santa between 1-4 pm on Saturday, December 2nd. Santa and his elves will spend time with each child and family in a quiet environment. Your child’s visit with Santa is completely free. They want all children to experience the Joy of Christmas and they hope that you and your family will feel God’s love during this time. Register for the event here.

Meet Autism Friendly Santa

Fi & Friends Organization

2729 86th Street, Urbandale, IA 50322

December 2, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

December 3, from Noon to 4 p.m.

This special VIP meet & greet with Santa takes place in a calm, autism-sensory-friendly environment. This includes 15 minutes of uninterrupted child-led time with Santa, up to 5 professional photos emailed directly to you, and registering online for a day/time. Accommodations are available upon request. The cost is $25.

Sensory Santa

Valley West Mall in West Des Moines

December 3rd from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.

In partnership with Autism Speaks, Santa will be at Valley West Mall early Sunday, December 3rd before the mall opens for a Sensory-friendly experience so families can come capture magical holiday photos in a calm environment. Reserve your spot here. Note that multiple families are seen by Santa in the 15-minute reservation window.

Santa Cares Day

Jordan Creek Town Center: Lower level of Von Maur

December 3rd from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Join us for a sensory-friendly visit and photos with Santa! Book a time slot here. Note that multiple families are seen by Santa in the 15-minute reservation window.

Breakfast with Santa

Gigi’s Playhouse Des Moines

December 9th from 8:30 to 10:230 a.m.

Join Gigi’s Playhouse Des Moines for breakfast with Santa, music with DJ DAS, and holiday crafts.

FUSE Jingle Mingle & Bingo

The Ridge, 825 NW 36th Street, Ankeny

December 12th, 2023 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Cost: $3 per person (including staff and caregivers)

FUSE holds social group events every 5-7 weeks for those with special needs ages 14 and up. Join them for their annual Christmas gathering which includes Christmas music, fun holiday snacks, bingo games and prizes, and a holiday service project. RSVP by email to Check out their Facebook page for a list of events for 2024 held each month.

Disability Empowerment Night: Special Olympics Iowa

Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines

December 15th, 2023; Doors open at 6:00 p.m. for 7:00 p.m. game time

Cost: $10 per person, 2 and under are free

Although not considered a holiday event, the annual Disability Empowerment Night in partnership with the Iowa Wolves is a fun family favorite. Special Olympics Iowa Athletes will be singing the National Anthem, a cheer team will perform, Unified basketball games will take place between quarters and a 5-on-5 game will conclude the evening after the Wolves game. Purchase tickets for the game here.

Lights at the Museum: Sensory Sensitive Playdate

Des Moines Children’s Museum

December 22nd from 5 to 6 p.m.

Join us for special hours on the fourth Friday of each month for children on the autism spectrum or with other sensory sensitivities and their families to connect and explore! We will have sensory bins, communication boards, and a low-light calming space. This month’s will be a special Lights at the Museum with holiday lights lighting up the exhibits.

Events Around the State

Check out other events happening around the state.

Deck The Stalls

Menagerie Stables in Mitchellville, IA

December 3rd, 2023; Sensory Friendly Hours 1:00-4:00 p.m.

Cost: $20 per child

Experience holidays at the barn! Children can ride a horse through a winter wonderland, play games on horseback, visit Santa and get a photo, play games, make a craft, and enjoy treats and snacks! Pay admission at the door and sign a release form for children who wish to ride.

Sensory Friendly Showing: The Polar Express

Putnam Museum and Scient Center in Davenport. IA

December 10th, 2023 at 6 p.m.

Cost: $5 per person

In collaboration with the Autism Society of Quad Cities, enjoy a sensory-friendly showing of The Polar Express. This includes dimmed theater lights, lower volume, movies in 2D, no trailers, handicap-accessible seating, freedom to move around and make noise in the theater, and a “chill out zone” outside of the theater. Reserve tickets by calling 563-324-1933.

Sensory Friendly Kiwanis Christmasland

Event by Facing Autism in Humboldt, IA

December 16th, 2023 from 1 to 2 p.m.

A sensory-friendly hour at Kiwanis Christmasland is for individuals with special needs and their families. People with special needs are welcome at Christmasland anytime, but sensory friendly hour provides a less crowded & quieter option to view the displays and visit Santa. Come and enjoy this family tradition! 

Christmas Hope

Cultivating Hope Farms in Ames, IA

December 22nd, 2023 from 3 to 4:30 p.m.

Cost: $10 per family

The Christmas Hope event is for families living with autism and varied abilities. Enjoy crafts, treats, a professional photo, meet horses, and take a tour of the new classroom space. You will also have the opportunity to purchase Cultivate Hope Farms products. Register for a family ticket here.

Whitney Alaniz, MOT OTR/L

Whitney Alaniz, MOT OTR/L

Whitney Alaniz, MOT OTR/L is an occupational therapist turned (mostly) stay-at-home mom. She has worked with adults to young toddlers and has a special interest in early childhood development targeting fine motor skills, feeding, sensory processing, and coordination. She loves incorporating this knowledge with her own two little boys through play. When she’s not running after her little ones she enjoys traveling, cooking new recipes and eating chocolate from her secret stash.

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