For a collection of kids and their families at the mall on Sunday morning, the goal was to take part in the excitement of Christmas in a calmer setting.
This was the third year that Indianapolis resident Sarah Kaminski had brought her 7-year-old son, JT, to the Caring Santa event at Greenwood Park Mall. Because JT has autism, getting pictures taken with Santa in a traditional setting, with loud Christmas music and long lines, isn’t an option, she said.
Children with autism or other disabilities can sometimes struggle with noise, lights, crowds and long lines, so the Caring Santa event provides a much calmer environment where children can get their picture taken with Santa without feeling overwhelmed or scared, said David Dawson, the area director of marketing at Greenwood Park Mall.
The event took place prior to the mall opening Sunday morning, giving families time with Santa before the shopping rush began. The event also uses less lights and noise than typical visits with Santa, Dawson said.
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“It’s our goal to provide all of our guests a delightful, fun, positive experience with Santa,” he said. “Caring Santa creates an environment that is less stimulating for children that might need it.”
JT has to wear earmuffs when out in public, since too much noise can be overstimulating and frightening for him, Sarah Kaminski said.
Even with that protection, going out in public can be challenging. She wants to provide the Santa experience to JT and his two younger brothers, but isn’t sure what she would do if Caring Santa wasn’t an option, she said.
She still took preparations before the visit, walking JT through what he would be doing with Santa, making sure he would be comfortable and that there wouldn’t be any surprises. He made it through the visit without any problems, and JT made sure to tell Santa about the train that he wanted for Christmas, she said.
One family made the drive from Plainfield for Caring Santa on Sunday morning. Nicholas and Pauline Moline’s youngest son, 23-month-old Julian, has autism, and they were looking for a chance to get pictures with Santa.
The trip was worthwhile because opportunities for kids with special needs to get pictures with Santa are limited, they said.
Gregory Compton, whose 8-year-old son Alex has muscular dystrophy, said one of the main benefits of Caring Santa was to not have to deal with large crowds, which can be overwhelming for his son.
Alex told Santa about the video games and red Lego bricks that he wanted for Christmas, something that he might not have been as comfortable as doing without the special setup, his mom Lindsay Compton said.