AUSTIN, Texas – It's that time of the year again when parents take their kids to see Santa Claus, but for some children living with special needs, the sights and sounds of the shopping season can be a sensory overload.
“My youngest is sensitive to a lot of sounds, too loud stuff, and my oldest he has a limit,” said parent Alana Benavides.
Many events featuring Santa are at the mall during height of holiday shopping, which can be especially hard to handle for some kids with mental or physical disabilities. A sensory overload can be overwhelming.
“A regular environment just is not something that they can withstand very well and they kind of need the individual attention,” said parent Jennifer Petrini.
Malls across the country are offering a calm holiday experience called Caring Santa, that’s devoid of crowds, loud noises and other triggers. It’s held before the mall is open to the public, so the environment is quieter. This Santa is trained to connect with children wherever they’re at.
“The Santa got down on the floor with my boys and played with them and just was willing to really work with them and get them comfortable,” Benavides said.
Parents register online to reserve a spot and avoid the hours long wait on line that’s typical of other photo sessions with Santa.
“It’s a lot of personal experience, they don’t just sit down and take a picture with Santa, they actually have a real conversation with him,” Petrini said.
The family now has a memory they won’t forget.
“My hope for son is that he has every opportunity out there and that he’s treated, as such,” said William Noveskey, who brought his family to Caring Santa.
The event is made possible because of a partnership between Simon Malls and Cherry Hill Programs. For more information visit: autismspeaks.org/santa2017.