NILES - Visiting with Santa Claus each Christmas season is a rite of passage for many children. But for those with autism and others highly sensitive to noise, light and sound, the process can be overwhelming.
The Autism Society of the Mahoning Valley and the Eastwood Mall collaborated to offer a photo event from 8 to 11 a.m. Sunday in the main concourse for children and young adults with special needs.
"For one day, we will open up early, turn off the holiday lights and music, and help kids meet Santa on their terms," Christa Blasko, marketing director at the Eastwood Mall Complex, said.
The program is modeled after a Sensitive Santa program started in 2008 by a mall in Dayton, she said. This is the first time it has been offered in the Mahoning Valley, she said.
"There will be no lines, no crowds, no music, but lots of fun," Blasko said.
"This modified environment is set up to support the sensory, physical and other developmental needs of kids with all abilities," says Aundria Cika, director of the Mahoning Valley office of the Autism Society of Ohio.
She said for individuals on the autism spectrum, being surrounded by the standard loud holiday music, bright lights and crowds of people can be an extremely difficult experience for both the child and the parents. In addition, since many of children are nonverbal, communicating with an elf can also be a challenge.
The event is free and professional photo packages will be available for purchase. Reservations are limited at www.autismohio.org/mahoningvalley, or by calling 330-746-4082.