Children with autism are meeting Santa Claus this year in a special way.
Through a program called “Santa Cares,” kids have the chance to visit Santa in a space with dimmed lights, lowered music and an overall calmer environment.
Families schedule time with Santa so there are no lines, and Santa is trained to interact with children with special needs.
Many of the events, put on by the nonprofit Autism Speaks and Cherry Hill Programs, have already taken place in November and December, in 582 shopping centers throughout the United States and Canada. More events can be found on the organization's site.
“Most of all, Santa remains flexible, standing behind his chair or kneeling beside a wheelchair to capture unforgettable moments and smiles on camera,” Ruth Rosenquist, marketing and PR director for Cherry Hill Programs, said.
“We are grateful for our compassionate mall clients that open their doors early to provide the time-honored tradition of a visit with Santa in a more subdued setting.”
The goal of the program is to “create a more inclusive world” for people with autism.
“As a single parent of a child with autism, it is difficult to provide ordinary opportunities for my daughter,” one mother said.
She added that the program allowed her daughter to experience the “magic of Christmas.”