Children with special needs were given a special treat Sunday morning at Opry Mills Mall.
Between 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., mall management redesigned the Santa display.
No music. No lines. No crowds.
“We're providing a more tailored experience through our Caring Santa event,” explained Tarasina Schneller, Director of Marketing at Opry Mills.
The event was designed for children with sensory disorders.
Sensory disorders can affect one or multiple senses and are commonly associated with autism, but can be part of a number of developmental disorders.
When a child with a sensory disorder is overwhelmed, the child's behavior typically changes.
“She's out of focus. She's doesn't want to cooperate,” Luz Binns said of her daughter, Mia. “It's the lights and the crowds and people and people staring at you, it's just too much.”
Mia has sensory issues, but on Sunday, she sat quietly and colored a picture after her visit with Santa.
“She's having a great time, and she was able to tell Santa what she wanted,” Binns said.
Opry Mills Caring Santa event reduced the triggers that can make a child, like Mia, uneasy.
In addition to reducing noise and crowds, families were given a number to avoid waiting in line.
Children were given coloring books and treats to occupy time while waiting.
“It's really good for him, especially not having to wait in line, too. That's a big thing. It gets him really impatient,” Chris Robinson said of his son, Gunner, who also has sensory issues.
Robinson and his wife, Heather, were able to bring all three of their children to the Caring Santa event, a trip that might not have been possible otherwise.
“It's much easier, much easier, so they can kind of enjoy Santa on their own,” Heather added.
According to Schneller, Caring Santa is part of Opry Mills' commitment to a family-friendly environment. The event was a partnership between the mall, WorldWide Photography and AbilityPath.org, an online hub and special needs community for parents and professionals.
“They've really guided and given us a lot of advice and tips on how to make this a truly successful event for families,” she said.
This was the first year Opry Mills held a Caring Santa event. It was the only Caring Santa event scheduled in Tennessee this year.