"I have an autistic grandchild, so I feel a special connection to these kids," said one of the Santas who spends time with children of special needs on Christmas.
No longer do parents have to worry about their child missing out on the glee of sharing a moment with Santa. This year, a number of malls across the country are going to open early especially for little ones with autism, so that they can enjoy some one-on-one time with Santa without being overwhelmed by the milling crowd of shoppers.
While many believe that the lights and the buzz of Christmas is part of the holiday merry-making, for children with autism, certain sights and sounds can be too jarring for them. But this year, children with special needs are getting a special position on Santa's list, thanks to the partnership between Cherry Hill Programs and Autism Speaks, who have come together to hold Santa Cares, as reported by CBS News.
Keeping in mind the sensitivity of these children to bright lights and loud sounds, the malls have been opening early and ensuring that the lights are dimmed for them while soft music is playing in the background. And during this time, the kids get Santa's special attention, giving them the joyful Christmas every child they deserve.
What's more is that these Santas are aware of techniques that help them understand the needs of each children and helps them adapt their approach based on the child's comfort level.
"Most of all, Santa remains flexible, standing behind his chair or kneeling beside a wheelchair to capture unforgettable moments and smiles on camera," said Ruth Rosenquist, marketing and PR director for Cherry Hill Programs, according to Inside Edition. And the best part is that the little one gets to go home with a picture of Santa while parents are grateful that they're able to give their child a simple but heartwarming experience.
One parent, J.R. Vega of Garnerville is also glad that his nine-year-old boy, Elijah who has autism will be able to share a few moments with Santa this year. "It's amazing, and not having to wait in line makes it possible," the parent shared. "It would be impossible otherwise. It would be too overwhelming and too much to handle."
For one of the Santas who has been spending time with autistic and special needs children since 2008, meeting these children has become something he keenly looks forward to. "I have an autistic grandchild, so I feel a special connection to these kids," he said, according to Lohud.
This holiday season, about 747 Santa Cares events will be held across 582 shopping centers in America and in Canada.
"Our goal is to create a more inclusive world for people with autism, and events like this make such a meaningful impact in helping families feel comfortable, understood and accepted," said Valerie Paradiz, the Vice President of Services and Supports at Autism Speaks. "We're so thankful to once again partner with Cherry Hill Programs to bring these autism-friendly events to the community."
Parents with special needs children are always worrying about all the experiences and the opportunities that their kids might miss out on. One mother admitted, "As a single parent of a child with autism, it is difficult to provide ordinary opportunities for my daughter."
But now that families have a personalized way of letting their kids with special needs enjoy the old Christmas tradition, Kaylee Bushell said, "It's exciting. We can come, they get to see him, we get to enjoy the moment, and we're on our way," according to CTV News.