Having a child with special needs should never mean missing out on the fun and magic of the holiday season. White Oaks Mall in Springfield is making sure no child is left out. The shopping mall is bringing back a free special event called “Caring Santa” to assist children with autism and other special needs.
The fifth annual Caring Santa is scheduled on December 4 before the mall opens to the general public. Those who want to attend can schedule an appointment on the White Oaks Mall website or Facebook page. Making an appointment with Santa ensures waiting in line is not an issue for people with special needs.
The event strives to accommodate anyone’s unique challenges. A sign language interpreter will assist anyone with communication needs, for example. Caring Santa is also sensory-friendly by avoiding crowds, lights, and other unnecessary stimuli. Music on the miniature train is turned off, and kids ride in the uncovered coal car rather than the enclosed train car.
In addition, sitting on Santa’s lap is often a problem for kids with autism and stimulation sensitivities – but at White Oaks Mall, Santa is patient. “If they want to sit on the floor, we’ll sit on the floor,” Santa told The State Journal-Register. “I reach out and see if I can touch their hand, because if I can hold their hand I can keep their attention. But a lot of them don’t want to be touched, and that’s OK, too.”
Congratulations to Simon Malls and other institutions across the country that are making strides toward welcoming and accommodating to people with special needs.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).