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Santa Cares: Sensory-Friendly Photo Experience Welcomes Children - FOX 14 TV Joplin and Pittsburg News Weather Sports |

Santa Cares: Sensory-Friendly Photo Experience Welcomes Children with Special Needs

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As Heather Latimer places her 6-year-old son, Landon, next to Santa, she feels a sense of gratitude.

"You know, he doesn't get to come to the mall because there's just so many people, and you know, it just really bothers him. So it's really nice to be able to come right now where it's all just nice and calm and he can just feel comfortable being himself," explained Latimer, a mother from Goodman, Missouri.

Latimer explains that experiences like this for her family are rare because having a child with autism means avoiding most public places.

"He does go through self-injury where if things bother him, he will tend to hurt himself. He does like loud noises, but not usually from other people," said Latimer.

Latimer isn't alone and as dozens of children with special needs experience Santa, some for the very first time, General Manager Joan Ghani explains what she does to make the space feel safe for these families.

"We turn the music down, we leave the lights off. You know the scrubber came through a little bit ago and I asked them to go the other direction, just you know, try to keep it as peaceful as possible," explained Ghani.

Santa Claus also recognizes the importance  of being accommodating for these children.

"To be able to make it like this, to make a special event where things are nice and quiet and calm, it's a good thing," said Claus, visiting all the way from the North Pole.

For these families, having the opportunity to make and capture memories means everything.

"It's a struggle to live with autism, but he's just a great kid and we just love him the way he is," said Latimer.

This is the 2nd year Northpark Mall has held this event. Interested in learning more or attending the next sensory-friendly event? Click here.

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