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Sensitive Santa brightens holidays for autistic children

Sensitive Santa.jpg

Visiting with Santa Claus each Christmas season is a rite of passage for many children. But for those with autism and others highly sensitive to noise, light and sound the process can be overwhelming.

In 2008, the Dayton Mall started Sensitive Santa. For one day, they open up early, turn off the holiday lights and music and help kids meet Santa on their terms.

Mall Marketing Director David Casper remembers one little girl who wrote Santa a letter but just couldn't hand it over herself.

“They decided that the mom and the aunt take the letter to Santa and that was their Christmas photograph – the mom and the aunt handing the letter from the little girl to Santa. The girl stood off to the side and jumped up and down and clapped her hands. Every year there are stories like that, that it really makes a difference in these kids’ lives,” he says.

Casper says, for many children, this is the first time they've ever visited Santa.

The program is this Sunday (November 18th) and could draw close to 80 kids.

Sensitive Santa is so popular the mall's owner, Glimcher, is expanding the program to all of its malls nationwide.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Prior to joining Cincinnati Public Radio, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She enjoys snow skiing, soccer and dogs.