Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.

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Awareness, help for kids on autism spectrum

An appearance by Santa tomorrow at Super Cuts salon at Cosner’s Corner is intended to raise awareness of autism spectrum disorders and to promote Project Lifesaver, a device that can help track people who wander away and get lost.

Wandering is a common problem in children with autism, and the community was captivated recently by the search for Robbie Woods, a local boy with autism who was found after spending several days alone in the woods. (He’d left his dad’s side during a trip to a local park.)

Robbie was not wearing a Project Lifesaver device, and some speculated that he might have been found sooner if he had been wearing one. The electronic tracking device can be worn on the wrist like a bracelet, and Project Lifesaver says the average time it takes to find someone wearing the device is about 30 minutes.

Jaimie Petty, whose two sons have autism and wear the bracelets, emailed me this week to promote the Super Cuts Santa visit. Santa will visit from 9-10:30 a.m. The event is being co-sponsored by Super Cuts, a business called Fredericksburg Santa, and Unlocking Their Future, an awareness, advocacy and support group.

Children can visit with Santa, and parents can take pictures. There’s no cost to attend, but donations will go to Project Lifesaver. The devices cost about $275 each, and while many law enforcement agencies provide them free to those who need them, “the supply is limited and the demand is often high,” says a press release about the event.

Along with those on the autism spectrum, people with dementia and other cognitive difficulties can benefit from Project Lifesaver, which you can learn more about at

Also for children on the autism spectrum, as well as those who are easily overwhelmed by sights, sounds and crowds: A ‘Sensory Sensitive Santa’ will visit the local disAbility Resource Center in December, offering kids who can’t stand the noises and jostling of mall Santa visits the chance to spend time with the jolly fellow in a quieter setting.

The visits will take place Dec. 4 and Dec. 10, the center said in a press release. During a previous visit, the release said, Santa shared a Santa Social Story to help put kids at ease. Such stories help minimize anxiety in children by  using a positive narrative to describe an event or situation.

For details or to reserve a spot for sensory-sensitive kids and their siblings, send an email to or to Or call 540/373-2559.