Santa Cares Event Creates Sensory-Friendly Holiday Experience for Special Needs Kids


Spending time on Santa’s lap detailing Christmas wishes is a fun tradition for kids and their families, but for children with special needs it can sometimes be too much.  Cherryvale Malls event helped avoid the hustle and bustle from holiday shopping.  Families of kids with special needs went in before the mall opened to get some one-on-one time with Saint Nick.
“I’ve been waiting for this so I could do my Christmas cards and pictures for the family”, Angie Flannery said.

Around the holidays pictures with Santa are a must for most families.  But for kids with special needs, a trip to the mall during one of busiest shopping seasons could be a sensory overload.

“We saw Santa a couple days ago and he was scared to death but here he’s comfortable,” said Parent  Brett Flannery.  “It’s being nice and quiet and kind of dark and less crazy its, yeah that’s what  makes a big difference.” 

Another parent, Jan Smith has similar experiences with her son.  “He would be frustrated by the time he saw him, and it seemed like more pressure and hurry and people were waiting and you know it was just more tense,” said Smith.  That’s why at Cherryvale Mall, Autism Speaks and mall organizers  put together the Santa Cares event.  The goal is to help families with special needs children get that one-on-one time with Santa.

“It’s a little quieter in here,” said Cheryvale Mall Marketing Director.  “We have the music turned down, we have the lights turned down and we are able to just provide a little bit more of a sensory friendly environment.”

Parents say the hardest part with making holiday visits at other places is the time spent waiting.

“If we had wait in line he wouldn’t have had, it would have been too much, too many kids, too much noise so we just wouldn’t have done it,” said Flannery.

“When he has to wait in line he starts to get frustrated, throws himself down, wants to take off,” said Smith.  “So getting right in to see Santa, he’s like so excited as you guys can see. His smile is so huge”.

Because of the detailed planning at the event, families and kids look forward to this experience each year.

“His happiness when he sees Santa,  that is the first time last year and this year that he was that excited and that happy and you could like see it in his face so it’s just something about this event that works for him,” Smith said.

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