Saturday, April 19, 2014

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Autistic children take pictures with Santa

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Autistic children take pictures with Santa
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Visiting Santa is something little ones and their parents look forward to every year, but for some children, waiting in a long line and sitting on Santa's lap can be terrifying. A special time was set aside for those children this weekend at the Sangertown Mall, where Santa spent extra time with Autistic boys and girls. YNN's Cara Thomas shows us how Sensory Santa helped these families get the perfect picture they've never been able to achieve before.

NEW HARTFORD, N.Y. -- For most young children, sitting on the lap of a big man in a red suit with a white beard can be confusing and scary. Especially for kids with Autism. And a busy day at the mall doesn't allow much time for those children to get acclimated.

"There's usually a long line during the day so there's other people that are anxious, other children that are crying, parents want to move it along and there's a lot of people around the mall," said Michael Arcuri. His daughter Sophia has Autism.

"For children on the spectrum or for children with sensory issues because the lights, the noise the hustle and bustle all around them doesn't afford the opportunity to be more relaxed and to be able to take their time approaching Santa," said Nancy Seller, Vice President of Early Childhood Services and the Kelberman Center.

This weekend Santa came to the mall a few hours early to visit with the children who needed a little extra time.

Sensory Santa has been going on for three years, a collaboration between the Early Childhood Direction Center and the Kelberman Center.

"What we try to do is we have the event in the morning before the mall actually opens with the lights a little lower, there's no music on and we allow enough time so that we can go at the child's pace," said Santa.

Even in this calm setting some children, no matter how much they want to, still have trouble approaching Santa. They'd sit and watch from many feet away or begin to cry. But Sensory Santa says he's trained to know exactly what to do.

He said, "I think the children can feed off of some of the nervousness when people aren't sure what to do. So I just try to remain calm and give them the different types of sensory input that they need."

"You just appreciate the fact that there are opportunities like this for you to do the same kind of things with the kids but in a setting that makes them feel more comfortable, and that's what it's really about, you want your children to be, it's not about the parents, it's about the children. And if they're not comfortable then there's no use doing it," said Arcuri.

And with time and patience, many of the children got their perfect picture with Santa. A moment many parents say they've been waiting years to capture.

Sensory Santa will be returning to Sangertown Mall on Sunday. He will be there to visit with special needs children from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. ClientIP:, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP