AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - The holiday season can bring joy to most, but to some, it can bring stress, especially if a family has a child dealing with special needs or autism. Often the lights, crowds and noises of the holiday festivities harm these children.
“When they come, they work in groups of five. You reserve your time to come, and while you’re waiting we have tables and chairs set out with coloring sheets for all the kiddos to just hanging out and hang with their parents while they’re waiting for their time to visit Santa,” said Kaitlyn Pillow, marketing manager of Westgate Mall.
Westgate mall, along with over 500 other locations, now have a 'Santa Cares’ program, where children with sensory issues can visit Santa before the mall opens, alleviating stress on the kids and the family.
“Well, every year we get so many letters after the season from parents who thank us for their child’s first visit with Santa. Or in many cases, it’s even the first time the first time they’ve seen their child smile on camera. Those are tiny miracles that you can’t recreate, it just means the world to so many people,” said Ruth Rosenquist, director of marketing and public relations of Cherry Hill Programs.
The program provides a calm experience for kids with sensory issues minimizing distractions that could cause a problem for some children.
“For some kids, it can really be the littlest things even like the lights buzzing, that a lot of other folks might not be noticing but for them, it’s really really hard to be able to tolerate that and stay in line,” said Angela Huang, associate professor of pediatrics Texas Tech.
Westgate mall says there have been other malls with the same program who have not had a good turn out. With a trial run of the Santa cares program last year, the mall saw a need for such services in our area.
“In our clinic here I would say at least a third to half of the children either have autism spectrum disorder or might have autism spectrum disorder,” said Huang.
The 'Santa Cares’ events are December 1st and 8th. Registration can be found on the Westgate Malls website.