Special needs children visit Sensory-Friendly Santa

Meet and greet with Santa in stress-free environment at Westgate Mall

Special needs children visit Sensory-Friendly Santa
Westgate Mall hosted a sensory-friendly Santa experience this morning. (Source: KFDA)

AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - Westgate Mall hosted a Sensory-Friendly Santa experience this morning.

It was the first time the mall has ever put on something like this for special needs children, and the first time some of these children got to meet Santa.

Westgate Mall partnered with Autism Speaks to give special needs children in our area their very own visit with Santa.

Special needs children visit Sensory-Friendly Santa

“Most of these kiddos, they haven’t been able to go see Santa,” said Westgate Mall Marketing Manager Kaitlyn Pillow. “And so what we have done here is create a safe environment, we’ve tried to avoid as many triggers as possible for these kiddos to come and have a relaxing experience with Santa.”

Families who came this morning said their children with autism and other sensory disorders were well accommodated for a stress-free experience.

“Sometimes he can get a little overwhelmed,” said Andrea Smith about her own son with special needs. “They gave extra help for the kids today, like coloring and just tables and chairs and snacks that really made his time with Santa even better.”

Another parent, Jennifer Cale, said it was her son’s first visit with Santa today.

“This is the first time we’ve actually gotten to see Santa because of the sensory,” she said. “He didn’t get overwhelmed and have a meltdown on us.”

Cale said loud noises from crowds, bright lights and other triggers can make it difficult for children with special needs to see Santa when everyone else does.

“They don’t have the fluorescent lights that have a humming noise which really helps with the children since the humming from the lights can affect some of the children with the autism or with sensory,” she said. “Also the perfumes, there’s no fragrances out in this area where we’re at to where the children don’t have to worry about those smells.”

“The population of children with autism has grown so much,” said Cale. “There’s so many different puzzle pieces that go into the autism so it’s just not one particular thing that triggers the autism it’s a big spectrum.”

Pillow said they felt the need to step in to make sure every child is a part of the Christmas tradition.

“I think every year, more and more attention is brought to the autism spectrum scale and the challenges that these families face and what we’ve seen is that there’s kind of a void in our community for having a special time like this for Santa,” she said. “Many families have not been able to come out and see Santa. We have the resources available, we have the space available so we just wanted to make sure that we could include everybody this year in the holidays.”

Westgate Mall is planning to host Sensory-Friendly Santa again next year and for multiple days.

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