Here Are The 180 Malls Hosting Sensory-Friendly Santa Events This Season

by Jerriann Sullivan
Image via Autism Speaks

Autism Speaks partnered with various malls to create the sensory-friendly Santa events

Getting your picture taken with Santa is a memory that can last a lifetime. We’ve all got a photo of the baby in the family crying upon meeting the bearded man who hosts Christmas. Kids with special needs shouldn’t miss out on the tradition and with new sensory-friendly events they won’t anymore.

Autism Speaks and Noerr Programs Corporation are hosting sensory-friendly visits with the big guy across the United States in more than 180 malls. Families with children who have autism or other special needs can meet Santa and get their picture taken in a “more controlled and welcoming environment,” the sponsors said. Malls can be loud and bright, and even those of without sensory issues can have a hard time being in them during the holidays. It can be entirely overwhelming for a kid with special needs. The lights can feel brighter and the noises louder. “The filtering mechanism in their brains often works in a different way in assimilating the senses such as touch, smell, hearing, taste and sight,” according to Autism Help. “They may be extremely sensitive to some senses.”

The organizers are hoping to provide the Santa visit “without the usual triggers associated with this bustling time of year.” Between November 20 and December 4, the malls participating will open two hours before the rest of the stores. The events will be private and just for kids with special needs. See the full list of malls involved here and make sure to schedule your appointment with Santa. Like most Santa meet and greets the visit is free but if you want the professional photos printed, you’ll pay a bit with picture packages starting at $25.

The event is a fabulous idea for kids who might normally be left out of the experience. What kid doesn’t want to meet Santa? My mom still drags out the picture of my brother and I on his lap – him crying and me smiling because I had just stolen his cookie. By being considerate, these shopping centers are creating a space that’s easier to navigate for families. Moms and dads of kids with special needs won’t have to agonize about their children missing out on a tradition, and their kids won’t be overstimulated – a win, win. Hopefully the sensory-friendly events will become part of our annual traditional going forward.

Again, here’s a full list of the malls participating.