AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – On Saturday morning, one by one, dozens of kids whispered their list to Santa at the Southlands Mall in Aurora, in hopes that he’ll bring them all they wish for this year. Upon closer look, Santa was far from ordinary.
“We’re here to make it a little bit quieter, a little less crowded, and take a little extra time with each family and child so they can really enjoy this moment and the season,” said Lea Anne Paskvalich, Executive Director of the Autism Society of Colorado.
The Saint Nick who spent time with children there was a special “Sensory Santa.”
“We work with Santa to help him understand the children that are visiting today. I have to tell you it’s been wonderful, the response that we’ve gotten from families to come here if they have a child with a disability, autism, down syndrome, other disabilities,” Paskvalich told CBS4’s Mekialaya White.
The meet-and-greet is in its 10th year, which is a partnership between Southlands and the Autism Society. Right now, the rate of autism is 1 in 44 children, according to Paskvalich.
“I’ve had mothers come up to me… I’m going to get emotional… and just thank us for doing something like this because it’s not always possible. Being part of the community is what Southlands is all about, but seeing it first-hand is what is the most rewarding thing,” said Joyce Rocha, Senior Director of Marketing at Southlands.
The experience is designed to help families feel a little more at ease during the holidays. “When parents anxiety is reduced, they can really enjoy the moment with their child,” Paskvalich said.
Because every child, or adult, for that matter, should be able to enjoy time with Santa.
“We are already planning for next year to expand this event and make it even more accessible. We hope to have more time slots and additional days planned,” said Paskvalich.
“I still believe,” Rocha said with a smile, “I’m getting ready to get in line.”