Turtle Creek Mall host event for children with autism

Turtle Creek Mall host event for children with autism

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Turtle Creek Mall hosted Santa Cares which is an event that allowed children on the Autism spectrum to sit with Santa before the mall opened.

"What a lot of people don't understand is that with special needs children, some of them have never visited or sat with Santa," says mall general manager Stacy Woodard. "It's just special because we create a sensory friendly environment for these children without the lights, music, and different faces.

According to Autismspeaks.com, Santa Cares is a sensory-friendly Santa photo experience in partnership with Cherry Hill Programs.

Stephanie Ewert brought her 12-year-old son Jaden. He's only met with Santa twice in his young life.

"To have a private moment to come and not be pressured with a line or overstimulated with noise and lights is everything."

The event was shared through social media and parents could R.S.V.P their families spot through Eventbrite. Those who attended say it couldn't have been more perfect.

Parent Melody O'mary says, "every year we come, Aaliyah's very distracted and she can't focus with everybody in line. She's not very patient. So, just to be able to get this one-on-one time without the crowd is a blessing for us."

While kids like Aaliyah and Jaden took turns giving Santa their wish list, parents say they wish to make this a tradition in years to come.

"I hope we get to do this next year," says O'mary. "I hope that we get more programs in the Pinebelt where the Autistic community can go, have more quiet hours, and act like neurotypical children."

Woodard says this is the first year the mall has had the event on their property and they plan to do it again next year.