Malls across the country are opening early this holiday season so children with autism can visit Santa in a calmer environment.
Two organizations — Autism Speaks and Cherry Hill Programs — partnered for “Santa Cares,” an event that involves hundreds of malls in the U.S. and Canada opening early so the environment is less hectic when children with autism come to see Saint Nick.
In addition to the earlier than normal hours, the lights are dimmed and the music volume is lowered to help create a calm environment for children with autism, who often experience sensory issues. Sights, sounds, smells and tastes, among other stimuli, are often triggering.
The initiative helps to create a calmer environment for children with autism or sensory issues visiting Santa.
“Santa has been specially trained to interact with special needs children and will take cues from a parent or caregiver who knows the child’s abilities and preferences,” said the press release from Cherry Hill Programs.
In total, 582 shopping destinations across the U.S. and Canada are taking part in 747 Santa Cares events.
“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, PhD., vice president of services and supports at Autism Speaks, in a statement. “We’re so thankful to once again partner with Cherry Hill Programs to bring these autism-friendly events to the community.”