VIENNA, W.Va. - Families of children with autism spectrum disorder are encouraged to participate in the "Sensitive Santa" event Sunday at Grand Central Mall.
"These children are very special and have special needs when it comes to sensory triggers, and we want to help them and their families experience the magic of Christmas," said Christie Swisher, general manager of the mall.
The event caters to children with autism and allows them to enjoy sitting on Santa's lap with the help of a "sensory friendly" environment. This means the lights and music will be turned down and staff will be instructed to avoid loud, distracting movements in the Santa area.
For added comfort, the event will take place from 8 to 10 a.m. when the mall is closed to shoppers.
"We want the children and their families to be as comfortable as possible to have a great time and create some happy memories," Swisher said. "'Sensitive Santa' will allow these children to experience the same enjoyment with Santa, but in a much calmer, less intimidating environment."
Each family will also be given a free 4-by-6-inch photo, provided by the mall and Worldwide Photography.
If you go
What: Sensitive Santa.
When: 8 to 10 a.m. Sunday.
Where: Grand Central Mall, Vienna, W.Va.
Who: Designed for children with autism, the event will feature a Santa area made more "sensory friendly," with lower lights and music and fewer distracting movements to allow the children to be more comfortable.
This is the first year for the event in the Mid-Ohio Valley, Swisher said.
"It began last year at one of our sister malls in Dayton, and it was so successful that all of our malls are hosting it this year," Swisher said.
The event came about because it can often be difficult for families of children with autism to enjoy many of the holiday celebrations and traditions in the community, including sitting on Santa's lap at the mall.
"There are approximately three to six children of every 1,000 diagnosed with autism, which means there are a number of families in our area that this event can provide for," Swisher said.
Swisher said the mall has sent information about "Sensitive Santa" to area schools, as well as websites and organizations that work with special needs children.
"We have received a lot of positive feedback online, and many people have posted heartwarming stories about their families and children they have known," Swisher said. "We are looking forward to having a very successful event."