This Sunday, Barber National Institute and Millcreek Mall are teaming up to bring Santa to the mall. So, what makes Santa’s visit so special? Santa and his helpers are autism-, special needs- and wheelchair-friendly. This means that when families arrive, the music is off, the lights are dimmed, there are no lines and everything is accessible.
This event is not unique to Erie. Malls across the U.S. and Canada are starting to recognize the importance of events incorporating an autism- and special needs-friendly Santa. I encourage you to explore with a mall in your locale what arrangements they can make to have an autism- & special needs-friendly Santa appear for your child. Giving your child the gift to visit Santa is priceless.
Last year, I observed one of our students, a 10-year old girl, as she sat on Santa’s lap. I could see the tears in her mom and dad’s eyes. When I spoke with them before they left, her mom explained to me that they were never able to take her to visit Santa before. The crowds were too much for their daughter who was highly sensitive to the noise and crush of people around her. They were so grateful for this unique opportunity to allow their daughter to have her picture taken with Santa. For this little girl, “Dreams Do Come True.” She left with a huge smile on her face.
This was just one of many stories that I heard that day and the reason that we continue to partner with Millcreek Mall to host this event. I am truly thankful to our staff, who gives up their Sunday mornings with their families to volunteer.
Our event is open to the public and takes place from 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. before Santa’s typical open hours. Families receive a number when they arrive and then have fun in the special activities area while they wait for their number to be called. The activities include face painting, arts & crafts and holiday takeaways that engage the children while they wait for their special turn with Santa. Santa’s helpers will take the photographs and offer a $2 coupon to the families.
This Autism-Friendly Santa event is so popular that families have traveled here from the tri-state area. A hour drive each way has not deterred parents who want to provide their child(ren) with this unique opportunity. Families were so excited to see Santa last year that parents and children came early to enjoy the festivities.
So, whether you are 2, 5, 15, or 30, visiting Santa is a tradition of the holiday season and I invite you to join us on Sunday.