PORTLAND -- For many autistic children, visiting Santa in a loud, crowded shopping mall is just too much for them. However, they got a rare opportunity Sunday morning at Lloyd Center Mall.
Six-year-old Kimmy Diamond has never successfully visited with Santa.
We've tried before, but it's been challenging, said her dad, Eddy Diamond.
We have a hard time with Santa Claus because it's usually too loud and they're trying to rush us through the line, added mom, Brandy.
Autistic kids like Kimmy struggle with unique behaviors and loud, bright, bustling experiences can quickly overwhelm them.
We know when our kids have these triggers it makes them extremely uncomfortable, said Jeff Clark, who has 2 autistic sons. They're not able to verbalize what they're feeling or going through. Now, this proud father is relieved that his son's Michael and Eric were actually enjoying their visit with Santa this year. The same was true for Kimmy who jumped into Santa's lap. She told him she wanted a Lots-O-Huggin bear from Toy Story for Christmas.
Kimmy even smiled for a picture and gave Santa a warm hug. She did so great, I'm in total shock, this is wonderful, said Brandy.
So why is the event so successful with autistic children? Lloyd Center made the Santa area sensory friendly. There was no music or loud noises in the mall or shoppers. Even the holiday lights were turned off.
For two special hours, Lloyd Center Mall became a soothing, calming place.
It means so much, said Jeff Clark. It means we have the opportunity to do what everyone else does and we have extra time to do it.
Taylor Trout brought his son Jacob to see Santa. It kind of humbles you as a parent to see other special needs kids and it shows that you're not alone in this whole situation, he said.
Nationally, more than 1 in a hundred children have autism and for some unknown reason, the autism rate is even higher in Oregon. For a long line of families this special visit with a Sensitive Santa, may have been the best present of the season.