Sensory-friendly event makes meeting Santa Claus special for everyone

By  | 

CHERRY VALLEY, Ill. (WIFR) -- For many of us, meeting Santa Claus is a holiday tradition, but for some families, waiting in long lines to see him can be stressful.

That's why CherryVale Mall in Cherry Valley, Illinois is making sure every kid has their own magical moment with Santa Claus.

"It makes us feel like a regular, normal family," said Angie Flannery, whose son has special needs.

Evan Flannery has Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism.

"He doesn't like crowds and he needs a little bit calmer," said Flannery.

That's why CherryVale Mall hosted a special sensory-friendly Santa event that allows kids like Evan to experience the magic of meeting Santa Claus without the busyness and stress.

"This event allowed us to really control some of those things, so we dimmed the lights, we had this event before the mall opened to keep the crowds down," said marketing director of CherryVale Mall Melissa Cavanagh.

Each employee in Santa's workshop is trained on working with kids with special needs.

"I'm always appreciative of any type of event or anything that specifies time for special needs because it is a lot harder than people realize and it's nice to have a little help," said Jan Smith, whose son also has special needs.

Jan Smith says certain noises can upset her son Caleb, so being able to skip long lines made the visit with Santa even more special.

"His attitude and his reaction right now, the mood he's in is because of this, you know?" said Smith.

Nearly 30 families experienced the Christmas tradition of meeting Santa Claus, something that wouldn't be possible without the separate, special time.

"We probably wouldn't do it otherwise right? Because if we had to come and wait an hour, it would not go well, so it would just be something that we wouldn't do and miss out on," said Brett Flannery.

"It feels great to be able to help families do something that a lot of us take for granted," said Cavanagh.

CherryVale Mall says this is the first time they've held the special event and hope to continue with it for years to come. Santa's workshop inside the mall is collecting donations for Autism Speaks through the holiday season.