Children with special needs meet with sensory-friendly Santa Claus

(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Christmas season has arrived and Santa is showing up at malls everywhere.

But Sunday, one local mall opened its doors early so some local children could enjoy a special visit with the man from the North Pole.

Opry Mills Mall dedicated two and a half hours to make a sensory-friendly Santa Claus experience for children with special needs.

“I thought it would be a good time to bring my son Cameron to try to see if he would enjoy a visit with Santa. It’s not as crazy, no long lines, the lights are low and the music is off,” Shronda Hereford told News 2.

Hereford said her son Cameron, 3, is on the autism spectrum.

Christmas can be an exciting time for some, but it can also be terrifying to some children with special needs.

“It’s been a struggle for us trying to get him to go to a regular Santa Claus picture place because he doesn’t do good with crowds and loud noises,” said parent Lauril Gonzales.

Parents said they thought the event was a great idea.

“My son was great. He climbed up there. I liked not having to wait a long time and it being quiet. There was not a lot of stress and people moving around,” said mom Karen Bostian.

Caring Santa Program events started in 2011. They’ve expanded from seven Simon malls to 127 Simon properties this year due to high demand and the positive impact of the program.

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