DALLAS – Smiles could be seen across children’s faces as they passed Santa’s Wonderland in Grapevine Mills. It is that time of year, amid the hustle and bustle of the holidays, many families are stopping to see Santa.
However, a visit to Santa at the local mall is not very easy for some families. Especially for those families who have children with special needs.
”Part of the problem with going out to big events like this is the distraction, the overwhelmed feeling that he gets,” said Vanessa Avila who brought her four-year-old son Nathan to see Santa. “He gets over stimulated by all of the people.”
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. It is an exclusive visit, in partnership with the group Autism Speaks. Organizers create a low-sensory environment just for children with special needs to enjoy a visit with Santa.
”They’ve dimmed the lights,” explained Santa Claus. “We’ve actually started very early this morning, so that we could see those children.”
Santa and his helpers gave access to his Wonderland for the families who signed up, before the mall opened. Staff turned off the music. There was not a lot of traffic in the mall. Organizers say the goal is to cut out the distractions for the children, and create an atmosphere that is comfortable for each child who may not otherwise have access to him in the mall setting.
“It’s very important,” said Santa “I mean, that’s what Christmas is all about. It’s about the children.”
Caring Santa has been operating across Simon Properties for several years. Parents say it helps.
Avila explained, “We don’t have to worry about if he has a meltdown. People aren’t going to freak out, because, they are used to this. This is the life that they live every day. It’s no big deal to them. It’s just something that goes on.”
Santa’s team says making children of all ages smile is part of the magic of the season.
Santa said, “If you can’t give anything else, give a hug! Because that’s what Christmas is all about…is giving.”