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For people with special needs, visiting Santa can lead to sensory overload

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

For many families, visiting Santa at the mall is a holiday tradition. But Jose Dell'Aglio with the nonprofit Autism Speaks says, for some kids, the experience can be overwhelming.

JOSE DELL'AGLIO: Many people with autism rely on knowing what to expect and feel. So crowds, noises and busy lines, all things that go along with a mall, really create a discomfort for them.

KHALID: Paulina Ganung (ph) has autism. So does her 5-year-old son, Liam (ph). She says being out in public can sometimes be difficult for Liam.

PAULINA GANUNG: He is very aware of other people judging him, and that causes further dysregulation on his part.

KHALID: So they went to one of the hundreds of sensory-friendly Santa events that were held across the country - no crowds, no lines. Even so, Liam at first, she says, was scared.

GANUNG: So we gave him a blanket, and he actually made himself a little cave and hid in there while he regulated that it was a judgment-free zone where he could have a screen and no one's giving the eye looks or comments.

KHALID: And Santa didn't rush him.

GANUNG: Within a few minutes, he was able to regulate. And Santa actually walked over and sat on the floor with him and tried to engage with him, not giving that direct pressure of trying to get his attention, but just showing that mutual interest in what he was interested in. That was really special for me to see 'cause not everywhere you go has that sort of inclusion and understanding.

KHALID: A little understanding and a big Christmas gift. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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