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Sensory sensitive makes holiday tradition enjoyable for kids with special needs

YOUNGSTOWN - 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.
For this reason the Autism Society and the Eastwood Mall have collaborated to offer a special holiday photo event on Sunday, December 11, 2016 from 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM at the Eastwood Mall in the main concourse. Designed for children and young adults with special needs and their families, this will be an opportunity to have their photo taken with a caring Santa in a calmer, sensory-friendly environment.

"For one day, we will open up early, turn off the holiday lights and music and help kids meet Santa on their terms," says Alyson Moliterno, Marketing Director at the Eastwood Mall Complex. Moliterno points out the program is modeled after a Sensitive Santa program started in 2008 by a mall in Dayton, but this Eastwood Mall was the first to offer it in the Mahoning Valley. "There will be no lines, no crowds, no music, but lots of fun!"

"This modified environment is set up to support the sensory, physical and other developmental needs of kids with all abilities," says Robin Suzelis, president of Autism Society of Mahoning Valley. For individuals on the autism spectrum, for example, being surrounded by the standard holiday loud music, bright lights and crowds of people can be an extremely difficult experience for both the child and his parents. In addition, since many of children are nonverbal, communicating with the Jolly Old Elf can also be a challenge.

To address these issues, guests are encouraged to sign up in advance and reserve a spot to limit the wait time. Trained elves will be on hand to play games and provide other activities while the children wait to see Santa. Santa Claus knows these friends prefer quiet so he speaks in a soft and gentle voice. There is even a get-to-know-you form that parents can fill out so the Big Guy knows what kids are thinking if they don't want to tell him.

The event is FREE and professional photo packages will be available for purchase through the standard photo operator. "Together, we are working hard to create a fun, and stress free experience for the entire family," she adds.

About ASMV

The Mahoning Valley chapter of the Autism Society of America was founded by local families in 1989 to supporting families in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for families living with an ASD diagnosis, and to bring about community change and opportunities for individuals working through life with this disability. Our volunteers are dedicated to accomplishing this through information and referral, family support, advocacy, professional development, raising awareness and resource development.

Mahoning Valley Office