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Santa Cares: Malls across U.S. opening early this holiday season so kids with autism can visit Santa in a calmer setting

Malls opening early for kids with autism
Malls opening early so kids with autism can visit Santa in calmer environment 01:34

In malls across America, children are lining up to meet Santa this holiday season. Malls are also getting more and more crowded with holiday shoppers, and the hustle and bustle may be too hectic for some kids. 

Because loud sounds and bright lights can be overwhelming for children with autism, who often have sensory disabilities, two organizations have teamed up to create a more soothing environment for visiting Santa.

The nonprofit Autism Speaks, along with Cherry Hill Programs, are holding "Santa Cares" days in malls across the country. Malls will open early for these events, so it will be less busy and overwhelming. The lights will be dimmed and the music will be lowered, allowing children to visit Santa in a calmer setting, according to a statement from Cherry Hill Programs. 

Santa will lay on the floor or stand behind his chair to make sure each child is comfortable during the Christmas photo-op.  Autism Speaks

St. Nick himself will also adjust for "Santa Cares" events, with training in how to interact with special-needs children. Santa will lay on the floor or stand behind his chair to make sure each child is comfortable during the photo-op, according to Cherry Hill Programs.  

"Our goal is to create a more inclusive world for people with autism, and events like this make such a meaningful impact in helping families feel comfortable, understood and accepted," said Valerie Paradiz, the Vice President of Services and Supports at Autism Speaks. "We're so thankful to once again partner with Cherry Hill Programs to bring these autism-friendly events to the community."

Santa is trained to interact with kids who have special needs. Autism Speaks

This year, an unprecedented 747 Santa Cares events will be held in 582 shopping centers in the U.S. and Canada. Cherry Hill Programs also holds these events during Easter, so kids can visit the Easter Bunny in a quieter setting.

Santa Cares and Bunny Cares events both benefit Autism Speaks. Since 2015, more than $733,318 has been raised at these events for Autism Speaks.

The organizers at Cherry Hill Programs want people to know that all ages and abilities are welcome at these events. That message truly embodies the holiday spirit — and lets all kids know Santa cares.

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