Canadian malls offer quieter, calmer visits with Santa for kids with autism
Published Sunday, November 24, 2013 6:27PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, November 24, 2013 9:25PM EST
Malls across Canada are making special arrangements so that kids with autism can take part in a popular holiday tradition: taking a photo with Santa.
While visiting Santa is a rite of passage for many Canadian kids, the location -- crowded, noisy malls -- can prove to be too overwhelming for kids with autism.
But this year, nine malls across the country owned by Oxford Properties are opening their doors earlier so those children can still get some face time with Mr. Claus.
The visits take place before the mall opens, so families can avoid the busy crowds. As well, the lights and music are turned down to provide a calmer environment.
Calgary's Southcentre Mall was the first shopping centre to adopt the autism-friendly photo sessions last year.
The idea came to the mall's community relations manager Krista Moroz, after a friend lamented to her that her son might never meet Santa.
"I thought, well that shouldn't be true and we can do something," she told CTV Calgary.
Carol Bossom was delighted to take her son Jeremy to Southcentre for a photo.
"It's about making it accessible to Jeremy and all the other kiddos," she said. "It's such a big deal to me and other people too – to come and see Santa."
And without all the distractions, Jeremy made the most of his one-on-one meeting, politely telling Santa his top wishes this year were an "iPad sleeve and a Mickey Mouse ice cream shop."
Toronto's Scarborough Town Centre is also one of the malls offering the service this year.
Parents at the Scarborough mall told CTV Toronto they're happy that their kids can take part in the holiday fun.
"My son has real issues dealing with crowds, so as a result meltdowns are pretty common for him," Frank Heaney said. "So having a nice, quiet moment is well worth it."
Andrea Lombardo said her children were excited to meet Santa and it showed in the photo.
"They were excited. My son was smiling and he actually smiled in the picture, which doesn't happen that often, so it was great," she said.
There is no federal monitoring system to track the prevalence of autism in Canada. However, the Society for Treatment of Autism estimates that one in 165 Canadian children are affected by Autism spectrum disorder.
In 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that the prevalence rate of autism in the U.S. was one in 88 children.
With a report from CTV Calgary's Kevin Green and files from CTV Toronto