Sensory-friendly Santa popping up in Northeast Ohio shopping malls

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MENTOR, Ohio (WJW)-- It is a family tradition leading up to the holiday season: achance for kids to sit on Santa’s lap, detailing items on their Christmas wish lists.

But for children with special needs, this rite of passage can be anything but joyous.

"If you're coming to the mall, you know how loud it can be. Either there's music playing like right now, you may be able to hear the music playing, there's lots of people running around," said Leslie Bloom with Autism Speaks.

It is estimated that one in 59 children are living with autism in the United States, with more than 38,000 here in Ohio alone.

Autism Speaks is partnering with Cherry Hill Programs once again this holiday season to provide sensory-friendly Santa experiences for families, including at Great Lakes Mall in Mentor. The events featuring dimmed lights, music set to a lower volume and much more.

"Depending on which mall you go to, there's activities as you're waiting. And then the Santa’s themselves are specially trained and understanding and able to adapt to the family’s needs," Bloom said.

To participate, families are asked to reserve a time in advance so that children with special needs can be called up individually and don’t have to wait in line.

Sensory-friendly Santa events are also free of charge and keepsake photo packages available for purchase.

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