Sensory friendly time with Santa

Zach Belisle and his brother Luke visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus

Coastal Grand Mall teamed up with Autism Speaks, Champion Autism Network, Cherry Hill Programs and The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce to organize the sensory friendly experience.

The event was held in the morning before the mall opened for the day. Parents are able to sign up online for allotted times for their child to meet with Santa without the overcrowding and loud noise in the mall. They dimmed the lights and turned the music off to make sure every child was comfortable for their appointment.

"I'm always appreciative of any type of event or anything that specifies time for special needs because it is a lot harder than people realize and it's nice to have a little help", said Jan Smith, whose son also has special needs.

Children were treated to quieter surroundings with subdued light, allowing them to have a more personal conversation with Santa.

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The Avila's are among 30 families who reserved a special visit to Santa's Wonderland at Grapevine Mills for an event called Caring Santa. Especially for those families who have children with special needs. He gets overstimulated with the crowds. "This is the first time he would talk to Santa and actually sit on his lap" says Whitney Wardlow.

"I'm so grateful Santa Cares was brought to the community".

Parents said this gives them the opportunity to be around other families that deal with similar issues.

Executive Director of the Autism Society of Alaska, Danielle Tessen, said the first year, the group only had around 15 families attend; but now, four years later, she estimated turnout at around 100.

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